A large coalition of tech experts, civil society groups, and reputable activists issued a letter urging Congress to combat the executive branch’s overreach into the internet and violation of constitutional power.
“We write to urge Congress to defend its Power of the Purse–and Internet freedom,” the August letter opens.
The signatories believe the Obama Administration and Department of Commerce violated federal law by planning to allocate the responsibility and control of a large part of the Internet to a “global multi-stakeholder community.” The responsibility is currently delegated to Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which is in charge of overseeing and managing websites around the world.
The Power of the Purse, or the ability to distribute funds for government purposes, was explicitly given to the legislative branch, as noted in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution. The letter also claims that along with the “Power of the Purse,” Congress also has “the sole right to dispose of federal property, which the IANA function may well be.”
“The Administration appears determined to violate clear appropriations prohibiting the transition of the Internet domain system without authorization. If the administration does not relent, Congress should sue,” the letter reads.
The letter is addressed to current Congressional leadership, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
The IANA is a department within the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), both of which were run by a private nonprofit in California. The IANA has been in charge under the supervision of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration since its inception in 1988, according to The Daily Signal.
“We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan,” Lawrence E. Strickling, administrator for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, told The Washington Post more than two years ago.
But not all are happy about this prospect:
What is the global internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 14, 2014
One of the signees, Brett Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation, stresses, “That’s not how our system works.”
“Because there are check and balances, Congress has exercised a check by adopting that appropriations rider and the president signed it into law,” Schaefer explains.
Like all of the participants of the coalition letter, Schaefer condemns the administration for “trying to circumvent the law” and move on with the transition without congressional approval.
While the letter was headed by the nonprofit TechFreedom, which is dedicated to promoting innovation and freedom in technology, the coalition as a whole includes a diverse range of organizations and individuals across the political spectrum.
In the end, the coalition is suing because it believes internet freedom is more likely to be maintained under the control of just the U.S. But to sue, they have to cite a specific violation of the law.
“Members of both parties should be able to unite around defending the Power of the Purse, the most fundamental Constitutional power of the American People’s elected representatives,” the final paragraph of the letter reads.
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