WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called on Congress to stop the Obama administration from giving away control of the Internet without congressional authorization — a move Cruz said is likely illegal.
Since 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit organization that assigns domain names for the Internet and manages IP addresses, has operated under a contract with the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The NTIA plans to end its relationship with ICANN on Sept. 30.
“We built the Internet, and America maintains it as free for all. We don’t use it in an imperialist manner to impose our views on others, we maintain it as an oasis of freedom because we are a nation dedicated to principles that are reflected in the Bill of Rights and especially the First Amendment. What is going through the minds of Obama administration when they say, ‘Let’s just give it away?’” Cruz said during a Heritage Foundation event on ending the U.S. contractual relationship with ICANN.
“Who in their right mind looks at the Internet and says, ‘You know what we need. We need Russia to have more control over this.’ What is the thought process behind that? And I might note what the Obama administration is doing is also likely illegal. The United States Constitution prohibits transferring government property to anyone else without the authorization of Congress,” he added.
Cruz said the Obama administration should not “give away this valuable, critical property” without authorization in law.
“That ought to trouble all of us,” he said. “Where are the Democrats defending American interests? Let me encourage you to encourage friends on the left, there may be issues on which we disagree with, but free speech and Internet freedom ought to unite us all.”
Cruz has introduced the Protecting Internet Freedom Act in the Senate, which he said would stop the “radical” Internet transition to ICANN and ensure the U.S. government keeps its ownership and control of the .gov and .mil top-level domains.
“If that proposal goes through, that will empower countries like Russia, like China, like Iran to be able to censor speech on the Internet. These are not our friends,” he said. “Our legislation is supported by 17 groups across the country, advocacy groups, consumer groups, and just this afternoon, we heard it is receiving the formal endorsement of the House Freedom Caucus.”
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) introduced the House version of the legislation.
Cruz said the U.S. must fight to protect the Internet’s “amazing ability” to take power out of the “entrenched elites” and bring it to the people.
“You know, it wasn’t that many years ago that Dan Rather was a respected network news anchor until a bunch of bloggers in pajamas began fact-checking his stories and took down one of the biggest names in news,” he said. “That could never have happened prior to the Internet. That ability to research, to communicate, to get a voice out, to expand virally could never have happened prior to the Internet.”
He labeled the Obama administration’s proposal “an extraordinary threat to our freedom” and one that most Americans don’t know anything about.
“Imagine searching the Internet and instead of seeing your standard search results, you see a disclaimer that the information you were searching for was censored. If you’re in China, that situation could well come with the threat of arrest for how dare searching for such a thing,” he said. “But thankfully, that’s not yet happening in America. This transfer from the Obama administration, this radical proposal, could lead to that threat. And Congress has yet to step in and affirmatively stop this.”
According to Cruz, Tarek Kamel, senior advisor to the president of ICANN, previously worked for the Egyptian government when it shut down Egypt’s Internet during the Arab Spring Revolution in 2011. Cruz agreed with the Obama administration’s public opposition to Egypt’s actions at that time.
“The move led the Obama administration to publicly chastise Mr. Kamel in an open letter saying, ‘Unless you act now, in your final hours as minister, to reverse the Internet cutoff, your name will forever be associated with an unprecedented human-rights violation on a national scale, and an economic catastrophe triggered by a shortsighted regime’s drive for self-preservation.’ I’m going to say a sentence that I rarely utter: I agree with the Obama administration,” Cruz said.
“Tarek Kamel made his name shutting down the Internet in Egypt to stifle free speech that was threatening to the government, and now, the Obama administration is months away from handing over control of the Internet to ICANN, which employs him,” he added.
Cruz also told the audience that ICANN’s former CEO Fadi Chehadé left ICANN to lead a “high-level working group for China’s World Internet Conference.”
“Mr. Chehadé’s decision to use his insider knowledge of how ICANN operates to help the Chinese government and their conference is more than a little concerning. This is the person who is heading ICANN, which we’re being told trust them with our freedoms, went to work for the Chinese Internet Conference,” he said. “The Chinese Internet Conference has rightly been criticized for banning members of the press such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.”