WASHINGTON — Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) on Thursday sounded the alarm that the Obama administration is quietly maneuvering to relinquish the United States’ oversight of the global internet infrastructure in favor of what one of his Republican colleagues called “an international body akin to the United Nations.”
The Obama administration has been laying to groundwork for ceding U.S. authority over The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN “plays a unique role in the infrastructure of the internet,” essentially managing the domain name system.
Under the United States’ watch, the internet has flourished into a bastion of free speech and free enterprise, even in many authoritarian countries.
Sen. Shelby told Yellowhammer Thursday that relinquishing that role could open could create a vacuum that will be filled by oppressive regimes.
“I have serious concerns with the Obama Administration’s plan to unilaterally relinquish any oversight of the Internet, especially without input from Congress,” he said. “My colleagues have raised several questions about what this transition could mean for our freedom of speech and if it could present an opportunity for authoritarian countries like Russia and China to make online power grabs.”
Among those colleagues is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.), who has launched a website counting down the days “until Obama gives away the internet.”
“Today our country faces a threat to the internet as we know it. In 22 short days, if Congress fails to act, the Obama administration intends to give away the internet to an international body akin to the United Nations,” Cruz said during a speech on the Senate floor. “I rise today to discuss the significant, irreparable damage this proposed internet giveaway could wreak not only on our nation but on free speech across the world.”
Republicans have been able to head off the Obama administration’s previous attempts to cede control of ICANN by passing legislation.
“I have included a provision in my Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations funding bills in recent years that has temporarily halted this transition until Congress can weigh in,” said Sen. Shelby. “Unfortunately, President Obama has made it clear that he has no reservations with making an end-run around Congress.”
Some Republican aides believe the transition could be stalled because of issues with the Obama administration’s proposal, but House Republicans are also considering possible legislative action as part of the upcoming appropriations bill.