Transfer by US of Internet oversight could face new hurdles

New bills in the U.S. demand that the transfer of control should be specifically authorized by Congress

U.S. plans to transfer the oversight of key technical Internet functions to an international multi-stakeholder governance model have run into hurdles with two bills being introduced on Wednesday that would require the government to first take the approval of Congress for the transition.

A bill proposed in the Senate by Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, called the Protecting Internet Freedom Act, would prohibit any transfer of Internet domain name system functions except if expressly allowed under a federal statute passed after the new legislation has been enacted.

The bill would also require that the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information provide to Congress written certification within 60 days of the enactment of the new Internet freedom legislation that the U.S. has secured sole ownership of the .gov and .mil top-level domains and a contract for the exclusive control and use of the the domains in perpetuity.

A version of the bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Sean Duffy, a Republican from Wisconsin.

The administration of President Barack Obama is "months away from deciding whether the United States government will continue to provide oversight over core functions of the Internet and protect it from authoritarian regimes that view the Internet as a way to increase their influence and suppress freedom of speech," Cruz said in a statement.

The senator has been for long a critic of U.S. government policy about transfer of control of the Internet to a global multistakeholder body. He put a hold last year on the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act, legislation that would give Congress 30 days to review alternative governance models for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers before a transition occurs, as he wanted to include a provision requiring a Congress vote to approve the transition plan.

ICANN currently operates under contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, which include responsibility for the coordination of the DNS (Domain Name System) root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources.

The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency located in the Department of Commerce, said in March 2014 that it planned to let its contract with ICANN to operate key domain-name functions expire in September 2015, passing the oversight of the agency to a global governance model.

The Department of Commerce said in August last year that the transition was being delayed to September this year while the community formulated its plan, had it reviewed by the U.S. government and then put it into action if approved.

ICANN submitted in March to the U.S. its plan for ending U.S. oversight of the technical Internet functions. But there are concerns in some quarters that after the transition to a global multi-stakeholder governance model, dictatorial regimes could meddle and try to censor the Internet.

A number of conservative groups have backed the new draft legislation. Berin Szóka, president of policy think thank TechFreedom, for example, said that the U.S. administration hasn't been willing to negotiate to protect ICANN’s multistakeholder model.

Congressional approval of the transition, besides ensuring more transparency and accountability mechanisms, would meet a legal requirement if a U.S. court were to rule that the IANA function constituted government property, Szóka added. The Constitution requires that Congress authorize disposition of government assets. 

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
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