It appears that the Senate is poised to quash a government shutdown threat from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in spite of presidential candidate Donald Trump lending his support to his former primary opponent’s cause.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday filed a continuing resolution to fund the government without any language geared toward blocking the administration’s IANA transition, which Cruz had attempted to include in the bill. The Democrats still have to sign on, but the measure is expected to pass the chamber on Monday.
The IANA stewardship transition, set to take effect on Sept. 30, is the U.S. government’s final step in a years-long process to transfer management of the Internet’s domain name system to the private sector. The U.S. National Telecommunications & Information Administration, part of the Department of Commerce, will relinquish its stewardship of IANA to the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
Efforts to block the #IANAtransition defy all logic. #IANA pic.twitter.com/XyvVlm0eTy
— Senator Brian Schatz (@SenBrianSchatz) September 22, 2016
McConnell’s action followed Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump’s Wednesday announcement that he would back the efforts of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to prevent the planned transition of control.
Cruz had threatened to block passage of the spending bill, effectively shutting down the government, if the IANA transition should go forward. The Trump campaign jumped into the fray with a call for the Republican party to unite in an effort to prevent the transition, sounding an alarm over potential censorship of the Internet.
Supporters of the transition, including World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, have insisted that the move would have no impact whatsoever on online censorship.
The inventor of the Web says @SenTedCruz is dead wrong about online censorship: https://t.co/p2BnHlcenx #IANA
— Free Press (@freepress) September 22, 2016
ICANN only supervises domain names, explained Berners-Lee and Daniel Weitzner, director of the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative, in an editorial published in The Washington Post. The actual flow of traffic, and with it speech, would remain up to the individual network and platform operators.
The Global Internet
One of Cruz’s objections to the IANA transition is that it would give foreign governments, as well as global corporations, more power within ICANN, which they might use to enforce restrictive policies that could undermine Internet freedom.
“Currently, through ICANN, the Internet is largely under the light control of the U.S.,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
“Given it is a world network, it would be logical to turn it over to world control,” he said.
That said, there are “major concerns that the next war will be a cyberwar,” Enderle cautioned, and there is no strong world government to ensure against the misuse of Internet control.
“This seemingly little thing could make the difference between winning and losing, and it is potentially a huge advantage that the U.S. is getting nothing for giving up,” he said.
“In many ways, this is like the Panama Canal, which was a huge asset,” Enderle suggested.
“It should be in world control, but giving it up reduces the country’s ability to defend itself,” he said, adding that “this control also has revenue advantages.”
Had Cruz succeeded in bringing the government to a grinding halt, it likely would not have prevented the IANA transition anyway.
“The Obama administration’s announcement that it would transfer control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions from the U.S. Commerce Department to ICANN, a California-based nonprofit, simply completes a process that began 20 year ago, and has been supported by previous presidents and administrations from both political parties,” explained Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
“Like many forms of bureaucracy, the transition has been in the works for a long time, and Senator Cruz is observing something which is just about a done deal,” noted Jim Purtilo, associate professor for computer science at the University of Maryland.
“The time to fight this battle was back when policy was being formulated — not when it is largely being implemented,” he said.
“It is probably good politics for the senator to have something to talk about — and I agree with many of his points — but it will probably end up just talking points about how he lost for all the right reasons,” Purtilo said.
Ignorance or Willful Lie?
One big takeaway from the recent political theater is that the discussion often strays from the facts and issues at the heart of the matter.
“Giving up control is good — but not great — tactical PR,” said Enderle.
“Keeping it is likely better strategically for the country, particularly in the face of a cyberwar, where that control potentially gives you the power to lock an attacker out of the Internet,” he pointed out.
That ability “could be a decisive advantage, if only to buy you some time to address the exploit the attacker was using,” said Enderle. “I don’t agree with Ted Cruz often and wonder about his motives, but this time his position — though perhaps not his method — can be defended as good governance.”
There are reasons to question the transfer, “including past judgments by ICANN and the organization’s lack of accountability,” Pund-IT’s King said.
However, “Cruz’s attempt to co-opt the transition by claiming it would allow authoritarian regimes, including China and Russia, to censor Internet content in the U.S. is either a willful lie or evidence of the Senator’s woeful ignorance,” he said.
“Plus, his attempt to tie the issue to continued federal government funding is pure grandstanding by a failed presidential candidate attempting to prove that he remains relevant,” King remarked.
End of the Internet
The rumor that the transition will bring about the end of the Internet may be greatly exaggerated — or maybe not.
“The impact of this change could turn out to be great,” warned the University of Maryland’s Purtilo.
“Control the rules implementation, and you control much of the economy around the Internet,” he explained.
“People can’t shop at your store, rally to your cause, or even communicate with you if they can’t find you on the Net,” Purtilo pointed out. “Soon, bureaucrats from places that love liberty less will be making those calls.”
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