Donald Trump this week came out in opposition to a plan that would see the US cede control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that oversees the allocation of domain names and IP addresses. In a statement published to Trump’s website on Wednesday, Stephen Miller, the republican presidential candidate’s national policy director, said that relinquishing US control over ICANN would “surrender American internet control to foreign powers,” thereby jeopardizing internet freedom.
“US oversight has kept the Internet free and open without government censorship – a fundamental American value rooted in our Constitution’s free speech clause,” Miller said. “Internet freedom is now at risk with the President’s intent to cede control to international interests, including countries like China and Russia, which have a long track record of trying to impose online censorship.” Trump has previously said that the thinks the US should consider “closing up” the internet to curb online extremism.
“ICANN, in fact, has no power whatsoever over individual speech online.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has led a Congressional movement to block the transition of ICANN control to a group of international stakeholders, which is to be completed on October 1st. Cruz, who has not endorsed Trump’s presidential candidacy, has argued that the move would lead to more widespread censorship, based on the premise that countries like China and Russia would wield greater influence. But such claims have been widely discredited by experts who have pointed out that ICANN has nothing to do with online censorship.
In an editorial for The Washington Post this week, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web, and MIT professor Daniel Weitzner wrote that “the misguided call for the United States to exert unilateral control over ICANN does nothing to advance free speech because ICANN, in fact, has no power whatsoever over individual speech online. ICANN… supervises domain names on the Internet. The actual flow of traffic, and therefore speech, is up to individual network and platform operators.”
The authors also took issue with Cruz’s assertion that the internet was “invented by the incredible ingenuity of the American people,” countering that “its design and deployment was a truly global project.” There are concerns that thwarting the transition could harm American credibility in future negotiations, potentially leading to a more balkanized internet. Berners-Lee has also been an outspoken proponent of net neutrality, which he says is also critical to keeping the internet open.
Cruz is attempting to block the transition through a short-term spending bill that must pass to avoid a government shutdown. The senator has not said whether he will seek to block the spending bill over the transition, as he did while spearheading the 2013 government shutdown, though both he and Trump have made clear that they don’t understand how the internet actually works.