See below for an update.
On the eve of the Obama administration’s relinquishment of control of internet oversight to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), attorneys general from four states have filed suit to delay the giveaway, saying the multinational body would have the power to “effectively enable or prohibit speech on the Internet.”
The complaint, filed by Republican attorneys general in Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada and Texas, argues the transfer violates several components of the administration’s statutory authority.
The administration’s plan to sign ownership of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority over to international Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers on Friday would consign the critical function of governance to an international community, the complaint contends, rendering the Web vulnerable to censorship by foreign powers, despite what the rules say.
“ICANN has a documented history of ignoring or operating outside of its governing bylaws,” AGs argued in the complaint. “In addition, even under NTIA’s [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] oversight, ICANN’s current practices often foster a lack of transparency that, in turn, allows illegal activity to occur.
“Nothing protects the Plaintiffs from additional occurrences of ICANN oversight failures or actions outside of ICANN’s bylaws that could expose Plaintiffs to significant expense or harm through illegal activity,” the AGs added.
The complaint names as defendants the NTIA and top agency official Lawrence Strickling, as well as its parent agency, the Department of Commerce, and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
An Obama-appointed judge heard the case Friday afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Galveston, Texas.
Last month, a coalition of national security professionals sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford Jr. to voice their strong opposition to the transfer.
“Of…immediate concern to us…is the prospect that the United States might be transferring to future adversaries a capability that could facilitate, particularly in time of conflict, cyberwarfare against us,” they write. “In the absence of [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s] stewardship, we would be unable to be certain about the legitimacy of all IP addresses or whether they have been, in some form or fashion, manipulated, or compromised.”
The transition could affect the status of Internet domain names, including .mil and .gov. “The Administration has failed to ensure U.S. ownership and control of .MIL and .GOV in perpetuity,” wrote a coalition of citizens and non-profits this August. “Both are vital national assets.” They argue that the Department of Commerce is doing “precisely” what Congress “forbade.”
According to the Epoch Times, the New York-based newspaper owned and run by Chinese-Americans opposed to the Communist regime in China, “Already, the Chinese regime is moving to fill the void left by the U.S. handover—and its new system for governing the internet goes far beyond the responsibilities held by ICANN.” They state that “Over the last two years, Chinese leaders have drafted an authoritarian set of laws that governs every facet of the internet.”
Theresa Payton, writing for The Hill, argues that altering the U.S.’s relationship with ICANN during an election season is unwise. “When the calendar hits Sept. 30, a mere 6 weeks before our election, the United States cannot be assured that if any web site is hacked, the responsible party will be held accountable,” she writes. “We cannot be sure if a web site is valid. We cannot be sure if one country is being favored over another. These are all the things ICANN is responsible for and has worked perfectly since the Internet was created.” Payton is a former White House Chief Information Officer and currently the CEO of a cyber security company.
Why make the change now? she asks.
Cyber-security expert and senior fellow at the Center for Digital Government Morgan Wright also has a question: “Why fix it if it ain’t broke?” The internet has been wildly successful — it has generated “untold wealth” and job creation, Wright pointed out during an appearance on Fox News last night with Brit Hume.
“Think of it as the UN for the internet. That’s basically what it’s going to be,” Wright warned. “They already have 111 member countries — a lot of those being UN member nations.” He said that the concern is whether they would be effective with that many people involved. “We’ve seen how the UN works,” he said.
“But other countries will not have any more access to these addresses in order to do any mischief than we have, right?” Hume asked.
“That’s unknown,” Wright answered. He said under United States control, new internet addresses go through a rigorous process through the Department of Commerce to create a new record of authority that is absolute and trustworthy. “More important, for law enforcement and national security, it means we also have trust in those records — when we do investigations, when we try to prevent something from happening, we have trust that those numbers and names are accurate.”
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz attempted to block the transfer this week in the continuing resolution Congress needed to pass in order to fund the federal government. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stripped language to forbid the transfer of control out of the continuing resolution and the measure passed both chambers on Wednesday.
So we’re down to an 11th hour, last-ditch effort to thwart the transfer of internet oversight through a lawsuit, because “once it’s gone it’s gone.”
“There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube,” Wright said. “When it’s out the door on October 1, it’s a brave new world and… we really don’t know where it’s going to go.”
A last ditch effort by Arizona, Texas, and other states to stop the organization that preserves the operational stability of the internet to become independent was turned away by a Galveston federal judge Friday evening.
The lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief over the move by the federal government was denied by Judge George Hanks, Jr.