US presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has taken time out of his busy primaries schedule to lay into ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade over his new job on a Chinese policy panel.
Cruz said in a letter to Chehade that China is known for its terrible track record on freedom of speech, and wondered aloud whether Chehade’s involvement in the panel constituted a conflict of interest.
Chehade said in December that he’d joined, as co-chair, an advisory committee of the World Internet Conference.
Also known as the Wuzhen Summit, the WIC is an annual conference organized by the Chinese government in order to push its agenda of national sovereignty over the internet.
The conference, apparently regarded as a bit of a joke even in China, actually has little international participation from government leaders.
It’s also been criticized by Reporters Without Borders, which called for a boycott of the 2015 conference after some Western news outlets were barred from attending.
While Chehade stressed that his involvement is in a personal capacity, that his panel is not due to meet until mid-2016 (after he will have left ICANN), and that he remains committed to ICANN’s “one internet” mantra, Cruz doesn’t believe him.
Cruz said in his letter (pdf) that he was “surprised and dismayed” to learn of Chehade’s involvement in Wuzhen, writing:
your participation as a co-chair of the committee raised concerns about a personal conflict of interest while you serve as the Chief Executive Officer of ICANN under contract with the United States Government.
Cruz poses nine key questions that appear to be designed to get Chehade to admit that his conduct in some way represents a conflict of interest, or that he’s a loose cannon operating without the approval of his board of directors.
He wants to know whether, for example, Wuzhen has already discussed the IANA transition, which will see the US government sever formal oversight of the DNS root zone later this year.
It’s a view common to US Republican politicians, of which Cruz is one, that the transition will open the door to China, Russia and other boogeymen to initiate a crackdown on free speech, which has always seemed a little far-fetched.
Cruz is currently considered one of the front-runners for the Republican nomination in the presidential race, following his victory over Donald Trump in Iowa this week.
His letter, which demands answers before February 19, was also signed by fellow Republican senators James Lankford and Michael Lee.
Chehade is due to leave ICANN at the end of March.