Remember the projected Y2K bug disaster? The world’s computers would supposedly go haywire as the clock ticked to January 1, 2000, thus destroying the world and ensuing widespread panic. Didn’t happen. Fast forward to today, however, and another doomsday scenario is afoot (albeit with much less fanfare).
If many politicians are to be believed, an Internet disaster is set to commence this Saturday. That’s when a tiny branch of the US Commerce Department officially hands over its oversight of the Internet’s “address book” or root zone—the highest level of the domain naming system (DNS) structure—to a nonprofit, a Los Angeles-based body called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Calling it an “Internet giveaway,” many Republican lawmakers tried to block the changeover, a transition that is strongly supported by the President Barack Obama administration and by Internet giants like Facebook and Google.
“Today our country faces a threat to the Internet as we know it… If Congress fails to act, the Obama administration intends to give away the Internet to an international body akin to the United Nations,” said lawmaker Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in a recent speech on the Senate floor. “I rise today to discuss the significant, irreparable damage this proposed Internet giveaway could wreak not only on our nation but on free speech across the world.”
The campaign of Donald Trump, the GOP presidential candidate, offered similar words:
“The Republicans in Congress are admirably leading a fight to save the Internet this week, and need all the help the American people can give them to be successful. Congress needs to act, or Internet freedom will be lost for good, since there will be no way to make it great again once it is lost.”
But ICANN, the Commerce Department, and plenty of others, have scoffed at the assertion made by Cruz, Trump, and countless others.
“The US government has never, and has never had the ability to, set the direction of the (ICANN) community’s policy development work based on First Amendment ideas,” ICANN said in a statement. “Yet that is exactly what Senator Cruz is suggesting. The US government has no decreased role. Other governments have no increased role. There is simply no change to governmental involvement in policy development work in ICANN.”
Cruz has a scary looking website with a countdown clock leading to October 1. With the changeover imminent, US lawmakers have been haggling over the issue all week. Some, like Cruz, have even attempted to slip language barring the transition into legislation for continuing to fund the US government. But late Wednesday, that attempt failed. Conveniently, the government’s fiscal year ends September 30, the same day the Commerce Department’s oversight of the global DNS is terminated.
One other hurdle remains. A last-minute federal lawsuit (PDF) brought by Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Texas. The attorneys general for those states are seeking a court order from a federal judge to block the move. A hearing has been set for Friday afternoon. “Trusting authoritarian regimes to ensure the continued freedom of the Internet is lunacy,” Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, said.
Overall opposition to the transition appears to be largely political. Many GOP lawmakers (and the Trump campaign) are seemingly arguing that without US oversight, foreign governments or hacking groups from the Internet’s dark corners might take over, control the Internet, and censor it dramatically. What’s more, these critics suggest that without US oversight, the Internet’s infrastructure might crumble entirely. The World Wide Web would be left in a state of anarchy.
That simply isn’t true. Ask other US officials, tech companies, or even Internet architects who helped build the current system, and they’ll say the US government’s oversight role of the Internet is too small for such doomsday scenarios to occur. In fact, these proponents of the transition even say that leaving the root zone under US control could cause more harm than good in the long run.
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SOURCE: DAVID KRAVETS