Cruz: Internet Transition an ‘Extraordinary Threat to Our Freedom’

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) on Thursday called the U.S. government’s plan to transition its control over the body governing the internet domain name system “an extraordinary threat to our freedom.”

Cruz is trying to stop the move before it goes into effect, but it’s hard to see how he succeeds since the administration has already signed off on it. He spoke at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation and TechFreedom.

The U.S. government holds a contract with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, the body that governs the internet domain names that essentially power the world wide web. The contract runs out on September 30.

American officials and private sector experts spent two years working with stakeholders worldwide to develop a plan to transition U.S. control over IANA to a privatized group of global stakeholders. That transition is now on track to take place by the end of September.

Cruz hit the Obama administration on what he called a “radical” proposal that he argued “will empower countries like Russia, like China, like Iran to censor speech on the internet.”

The former Republican presidential candidate said the transition should give Americans “greater and greater concern” over the security of top-level internet domains like .mil or .gov. There could be censorship on the internet because, he argued, the proposal would give adversarial governments “direct influence” over the internet.

A group of Republicans led by Cruz introduced a bill in June that would halt the IANA transition until Congress gives its approval. “Congress doesn’t have to sit by and allow censorship to happen,” Cruz told the audience Thursday as he stumped for his legislation.

Proponents of the transition have argued that postponing the plan would imply that the U.S. wants to keep its stronger control over the internet, which doesn’t sit well with the international community. Experts also say they have responded with due diligence regarding Cruz’s concerns.

Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, was involved in the IANA transition negotiations. He says that the worries of foreign government censorship are unrelated to the transition proposal.

“I’ve responded to concerns raised by Senator Cruz and others, by showing how the community proposal restricts government power relative to the private sector, and by showing that human rights won’t be enforceable by [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers],” DelBianco said in an email to Morning Consult.  “I share the senators’ concerns about foreign government censorship, but that is already happening and has nothing to do with ICANN or IANA oversight.”

Other GOP senators, including Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.), though not in favor of blocking the transition, have expressed concerns about rushing the move and have requested delaying it to ensure the transition occurs smoothly. They want to make sure it proceeds without any problems in U.S. domain security and has adequate protection from any foreign government power grabs.