Internet Governance

Republicans move to check internet transition

As the deadline draws closer for the United States' long-standing plan to hand over the internet address system's architecture to a global group, two Republican lawmakers raised concerns about the transition's viability in a letter addressed to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which controls the address book of the internet, has always been under U.S. stewardship, but the plan to transition its control to a nongovernmental, multinational community has been in the works for years.

In the June 27 letter, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, respectively, called the transition "misguided or, at the very least, premature."

They also questioned the constitutionality of the transition and raised concerns about the threat of censorship and manipulation of Internet content posed by a potential takeover by foreign governments.

The IANA contract is set to switch to the control of a nongovernmental stakeholder association that grew out of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit that currently administers the IANA contract on behalf of the U.S. government.

In the letter, the lawmakers cited a 2000 Government Accountability Office report that said it was unclear whether IANA and the root zone file were U.S. government property. Grassley and Goodlatte said they have asked GAO to clarify the matter.

"It does not make sense to proceed without definitive answers to this question, and doing so may possibly violate the Constitution," they wrote.

Andrew Sullivan, chairman of the Internet Architecture Board, said the issue of whether IANA is government property is "an interesting one for constitutional scholars," but the U.S. government's current oversight role of IANA is an extra step that might not be worth keeping.

"In any technical system, if you have an extra step that has no real function, you should take it out...because it is technically unnecessary, it doesn't actually achieve anything, and it doesn't add anything," he said. "All of the technical functions have already been achieved by the time NTIA is invoked.... Extra steps are where bugs can happen."

Additionally, he said ICANN addressed the issue of internet content manipulation.

"The bylaws do explicitly say that ICANN is not a regulator," Sullivan said. "The new bylaws are very clear about that. [The transition] is not a way for foreign governments to turn this system into a content regulator. So even if foreign governments were able to come up with a mechanism where ICANN could be controlled or cajoled...there is no way for ICANN to control or manipulate the Internet content."

The transition could be finalized as early as November, and the letter requested a response from NTIA by July 22.

This is not the first time the transition has been subject to congressional criticism. In May, members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee asked about the possibility of delaying the transition for two years, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) recently pushed a bill to block the transition outright.

"What we have are people who don't understand this is a voluntary system, and that's really fundamentally the problem," Sullivan said.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton released a technology agenda on June 28 that voices her support for the IANA transition.

Clinton "will continue to fight to defend the internet from government takeover and to empower those internet governance organizations that advance internet openness, freedom and technical innovation," the agenda states.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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