March 18, 2014

Politico Falsely Frames Opposition to Obama Admin’s Transfer of ICANN to ‘Global Community’ as GOP-Only

One of the more annoying aspects of establishment press coverage of many controversial issues is the outlets’ tendency to act as if opposition to many things (really almost anything) which advance the left’s agenda springs exclusively from Republicans and conservatives. One obvious example is abortion, as if you can’t be pro-life and libertarian or liberal (see: Nat Hentoff).

Another budding example has to do with governance of the Internet. Late Friday afternoon, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) announced its “intent to transition key Internet domain name functions” to “the global multistakeholder community.” Obviously, there is Republican opposition to this move, but you don’t have to be either to be opposed. Predictably, though, Jessica Meyers and Erin Mershon at the Politico headlined (“Defenders of Net transition: GOP off base”) and framed their writeup as if that’s the case. Excerpts from their report and an an excerpt from a blog post at the nonpartisan Information and Technology Innovation Foundation follow the jump.

First, from the Politico pair perceiving 100 percent partisanship (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Defenders of Net transition: GOP off base


Supporters of an Obama administration decision to untether the group that manages Internet infrastructure are challenging Republican criticism as misplaced or even politically motivated.

… Advocates see the opposite: a necessary step toward a more global Internet and one less susceptible to strong-arming tactics.

ICANN, a non-profit based in Los Angeles, has managed the nuts and bolts of the Internet under a long-time contract with the United States. But the U.S. role has worried countries like China and Russia, who want another organization to take ICANN’s place. They’ve tried to empower an alternative authority, the United Nations-led International Telecommunication Union.

Calls to diminish U.S. authority also have grown stronger from the European Union and other allies in the wake of last summer’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices.

That all has Republicans concerned.

… But Democrats and Internet experts believe the move actually lessens the power of the United Nations’ agency and makes the entire playing field more fair.

“It’s not a good news item for the ITU,” said Nick Ashton-Hart, the Geneva representative for the Computer & Communications Industry Association and a former ICANN official. “If the U.S. was to try and maintain the master key, it would have been more likely to result in the fragmentation of the Internet,” because other countries could claim a similar role.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration — the arm of the Commerce Department that made the announcement — vowed to turn down any proposal that leaves the Internet infrastructure in the hands of specific countries or groups like the ITU.

“NTIA has made it clear we will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an intergovernmental organization solution,” the agency’s administrator Larry Strickling reiterated Monday.

The problem with Strickling’s statement is that it only deals with what he can control, i.e., the first transfer agreement.

What is there to prevent that organization, consortium, or other entity from letting others, once it takes control, from letting governments and the UN’s ITU into the mix over time? Even if one argues that such a gradual takeover by foreign government(s) could be prevented by contract (which I doubt, because how would it be enforced?), couldn’t the new entity simply transfer their responsibilities to another government/UN-domintated body sometime later? It would seem that the U.S. would be powerless to prevent that.

This is not an academic concern, as Meyers and Mershon themselves acknowledged when they noted that some people who are at ICANN “have tried to empower” the ITU.

Before getting to ITIF’s position, I should also note another concerned group whose membership if far from universally Republican or conservative:

Critics included the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which expressed “concern” about the move. The ANA has also strongly opposed Icann’s top-level domain plans.

Yesterday, following up on a Friday blog post by the organization’s Daniel Castro which warned that “If the Obama Administration gives away its oversight of the Internet, it will be gone forever,” ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson weighed in with his own post:

U.S. Giving Up Its Internet ‘Bodyguard’ Role
This move will hamper the digital economy and reduce the power and effectiveness of the Internet as a whole.

… why is the U.S. giving up their historic role? According to Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence E. Strickling, “the timing is right to start the transition process, (and) we look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan.”

But the timing is “right” in part because foreign nations (and ICAANN itself) understand exactly how much on the defensive the U.S. is on these kinds of technology issues. This is spurred by the political fallout from the Snowden NSA revelations (which will likely continue to damage the U.S. tech economy for years to come) even though the NSA abuses had nothing to do with IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority — Ed.). They know that now is the time to push for these changes, since the U.S. negotiating position is weakened.

The Obama administration has not exactly been an aggressive asserter of U.S. sovereignty as trumping international bodies (see: “global warming” carbon taxes). Is it completely unreasonable to believe that Team Obama, fully aware of how its NSA has compromised this nation’s perceived integrity, might have chosen to time its announcement at roughly the point of peak NSA outrage? I think not.


… (NTIA says that) that any transition proposal must: “Support and enhance the multi-stakeholder model; maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS, meet the needs and expectations of global customers and partners of IANA services and maintain the openness of the Internet.”

Unfortunately, these assertions, while are well intentioned, are ones that cannot be assured. Once NTIA severs its ties to IANA it will have little control over how ICANN manages its functions. And we have already seen numerous examples of the chaos and lack of respect for transparency that have arisen from international efforts to manage and regulate the Internet, most recently with the controversy over the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) treaty.

With ICANN bereft of its “bodyguard” who knows who will pressure them to violate norms of openness and freedom. Moreover, the uncertainty caused by the transfer, combined with fears over potential splintering of the Internet as individual nations attempt to exert more control, will hamper the digital economy and reduce the power and effectiveness of the Internet as a whole.

And after the U.S. gives up control, it will have no ability to stop these reverberations from occurring.


Instead of identifying the legitimate concerns of ITIF and others, Politico’s Meyers and Mershon are attempting to smear the opposition by characterizing it as “Republican” — and yes, they are using that label as a smear. (Meanwhile, “Democrats” and the “Internet experts” associated with them are treated as the smart people in the room.)

The tactic is designed to make anyone who hasn’t yet looked into and evaluated the matter decide stop thinking and join supporters, simply because they don’t want to be associated with those icky Republicans who mostly oppose it. It’s irresponsible, fundamentally dishonest — and, despicably, a standard operating procedure in establishment press user’s manual.

Cross-posted at


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