The United States has controlled the Internet since the 1960s. This was only natural given that the Internet began as a Department of Defense project. However, Obama has once again decided that the U.S. holds too much power and has set out to change that by giving up control of the Internet.
How the U.S. controls the Internet
A large portion of the technological infrastructure that makes the Internet work is located within our borders. That is not an issue though — if we go dark, foreign-based sites will still largely be functional.
What Obama wants to give up is influence over a key organization — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”). ICANN has general oversight authority over the Internet, but the key to its powers rest in its responsibility for domain name registration. In short, getting a web address of any kind requires ICANN approval.
What Obama’s changes will do
The United States Department of Commerce has long controlled ICANN via its National Telecommunications and Information Administration. ICANN initially gained its authority through a Department of Commerce contract, and the current version runs through September 2015. NTIA has asked ICANN to come up with a proposal that transfers control away from the U.S. by 2015.
What will happen if Obama succeeds
The U.S. currently has the theoretical ability to veto any domain name registration or new top-level domain. It could also make any website virtually impossible to access. Due to the importance we place on free speech and an open market, however, the U.S. has never exercised this power.
Because of this, countries that heavily censor the Internet such as China and Russia have long lobbied for control of ICANN to be transferred to the United Nations.
Such a transfer would give them greater ability to block domains and websites that are perceived as going against the state. It would also cause many domestic businesses to lose our constitutional protections and be forced to worry about foreign laws.
More importantly, this transfer is seen as a sign of the weakness created by Obama, damaging relations with major allies such as Germany. At a time when Russia is openly invading other countries and China’s navy is posturing, we need the president to be showing strength, not bowing to the demands of foreign leaders.