Republicans are seeing red following the Obama administration's decision to relinquish control of the Internet to the "international community." The move is "red meat for the base," former Republican California congresswoman Mary Bono told Politico, another club the party can use to hammer President Obama on foreign policy.
The United States has been in administrative “control” of the Internet through the Department of Commerce’s decade-long partnership with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which operates the Internet’s domain-name system. But the contract ends at the end of 2015, and ICANN is trying to free itself of U.S. ties, report Jessica Myers and Eric Mershon at Politico. In part, that's due to concerns about NSA surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden. On Friday, the department announced it would end its partnership with ICANN, allowing the agency to exist outside of U.S. government control.
Republicans see this as another mistake on the part of President Obama, for several reasons. The instability in and around Russia in particular has stoked the GOP’s deepest fears that the Internet — a key component of the First Amendment — could fall into the wrong hands. “We’re at a critical time where [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is proving he is capable of outmaneuvering the administration,” Bono said. “Anyone frustrated with the UN Security Council could take a look at this [proposal] and recognize potential problems." The UN is another worry, the constant, simmering concern that it will one day trump the laws of the United States.
Former House Speaker-turned-pundit Newt Gingrich took to Twitter to voice his concerns on Friday: “Every American should worry about Obama giving up control of the Internet to an undefined group. This is very, very dangerous.”
Every American should worry about Obama giving up control of the internet to an undefined group. This is very, very dangerous.— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 14, 2014
What is the global internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 14, 2014
For South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the move to relinquish U.S. power of the Internet to a global internet community that “has no first amendment” would be a mistake.
“While I certainly agree our nation must stridently review our procedures regarding surveillance in light of the NSA controversy, to put ourselves in a situation where censorship-laden governments like China or Russia could take a firm hold on the Internet itself is truly a scary thought,” Scott said.
Likely 2016 presidential candidate Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also weighed into the debate, albeit a little more quietly. The Florida senator said that lawmakers “must consider this carefully,” adding that the contract must not “transition to a government or government entity.”
ICANN released a statement along with other leading groups, saying that: “The Internet technical community is strong enough to continue its role while assuming the stewardship function as it transitions from the U.S. Government.”
South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, Senate Commerce Committee ranking member, also raised the U.N. question, but said that the Internet “needs — and deserves — a strong multi-stakeholder system free from the control of any government or governmental entity,” adding that, “I trust the innovators and entrepreneurs more than the bureaucrats — whether they’re in D.C. or Brussels.”
In a statement, West Virginia Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and recent warrior in the fight against the possibility of a .sucks domain, endorsed the move, calling it “the next phase” toward “an independent entity that reflects the broad diversity of the global Internet community.”
Some consolation. That diversity appears to be precisely what has his Republican opponents worried.