The development and maintenance of the open Internet has been one of the greatest boons to the enhancement of free speech and free commerce since time began. But if the Obama Administration has its way, both will be threatened in the very near future - unless Congress acts by the end of this month to block the Obama Internet Give-Away. Will it?
Russia, China and Iran don’t have a First Amendment, and their governments regularly clamp down on free speech. So why would we want to end American protection of the open Internet and transfer it to Moscow, Beijing and Tehran instead?
On Oct. 1, the Obama administration plans to end the U.S. Government contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. Doing so would kick off a transition that could irreparably harm the open Internet, leading to censorship abroad that could, quite realistically, lead to censorship right here in the United States. Under this transition of Internet oversight, China, Russia and Iran, which have all demonstrated their contempt for Internet freedom by blocking websites and restricting Internet access to their own citizens, would be newly empowered to block specific websites from users all over the world, including in the United States.
Let’s back up.
The Internet was originally launched as a project of the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the 1960s. Then, in the 1980s, access to ARPANET was expanded courtesy of U.S. taxpayer-funded grants via the National Science Foundation, and, eventually, the Internet as we know it was developed.
So U.S. taxpayers paid for the creation, and development, and maintenance of the Internet. It is, in a very real sense, American property.
Article IV of the U.S. Constitution reads in part: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States …”
So under what authority, exactly, does President Obama claim the authority to make a decision on the disposition of a U.S. property - to wit, the Internet - without explicit permission from Congress?
Perhaps as important a question to ask is, where in the world are congressional leaders on this, and why are they not screaming bloody murder about yet another executive overreach by this overreach-hungry president?
Enter Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has introduced S. 3034, the Protecting Internet Freedom Act. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin has introduced a companion bill, H.R. 5418, in the House. The bills would simply prohibit the Commerce Department from moving forward on its plan unless it first wins congressional approval.
Similar legislation blocking the transfer of domain registration authority has been included in the government’s annual funding bills for the last few years. The current prohibition expires on Sept. 30. If that prohibition - embodied nicely in the Cruz-Duffy legislation - is not enacted again before Oct. 1, the administration believes it can do whatever it wants.
Cruz believes otherwise, and will be chairing a hearing of his Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts on Wednesday morning to examine the subject further. The hearing, entitled “Protecting Internet Freedom: Implications of Ending U.S. Oversight of the Internet,” will begin at 10 AM.
Moreover, Cruz wants to add the provisions of his bill to the upcoming Continuing Resolution, the one piece of legislation Congress must pass and send to the president before September 30. That’s a smart play on his part.
And it would be a smart play on the part of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to agree to add it. They’re already going to have a tough enough time winning votes for passage from among the more conservative elements of their respective GOP caucuses; adding the Cruz-Duffy provision blocking the proposed Obama Internet Give-Away would add a sweetener that could woo enough conservatives to allow the measures to pass without the leaders’ having to move left in search of Democrat votes.
And would Harry Reid or Barack Obama be so determined to give away U.S. control over the Internet that they’d be willing to shut down the government to get their way? Is that a fight either one of them would want to play out in public just five weeks before a crucial election?
Most importantly, though, Ryan and McConnell should move on the Cruz-Duffy legislation simply because it’s the right thing to do.
The Internet was conceived, built, developed, and grown to fruition long before Barack Obama became president. It was done at the hands of U.S. scientists and engineers, working with funds taken from U.S. taxpayers. The Internet is U.S. property. President Obama has no authority to give it away without explicit authority granted him by the U.S. Congress.
Sen. Cruz and Rep. Duffy understand that. Do leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan?