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ICANN handover in jeopardy as Texas leads lawsuit against US government

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2016, Domain Policy

The state attorneys general of Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Oklahoma have sued the US Federal government to stop tomorrow’s planned IANA transition.

The 11th-hour suit seeks a court declaration that the transition would be unconstitutional and a temporary restraining order forcing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to continue its oversight role.

It’s rooted in the conspiracy theories championed by the likes of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who holds that allowing the NTIA to stop authorizing DNS root modifications is akin to handing broad internet censorship powers to Russia, China and Iran.

“Trusting authoritarian regimes to ensure the continued freedom of the internet is lunacy,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a press release, losing about a thousand credibility points.

“The president does not have the authority to simply give away America’s pioneering role in ensuring that the internet remains a place where free expression can flourish,” he said.

The AGs reckon the remaining root zone partners, ICANN and Verisign, which are not bound by the First Amendment, could crack down on free speech.

The complaint states:

NTIA intends to delegate its approval authority over changes to the root zone file to ICANN and Verisign, and give these companies unbridled discretion to make changes to that file, with no substantive constraints on their decisions to grant or deny requests to alter the file that effectively enable or prohibit speech on the Internet.

Without the federal government approval authority, ICANN and Verisign have complete discretion to engage in this type of discrimination, and because these entities are private, citizens and States will not be able to use the democratic process

Citing the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the AGs claim that the government does not have the authority to legally remove itself from oversight of the DNS root zone.

The DNS root is US property that cannot be disposed of without an act of Congress, the complaint alleges:

The Authoritative Root Zone File, the Internet Domain Name System as a whole, the exclusive right to approve changes to the root zone file, and the contracts NTIA administers in exercising control over them are property of the United States

The US Government Accountability Office told Cruz earlier this month that it was “doubtful” that it the transition requires the disposal of any US government property, in this report (pdf).

The AGs also reckon that if the US is no longer involved in root zone management, ICANN could delete .mil and .gov or transfer them to third parties.

The IANA contract between ICANN and NTIA is due to expire tomorrow night, ushering in a new era in which the global internet community becomes the back-stop preventing ICANN abusing its powers for Evil.

Cruz has been fighting against the transition for reasons best known to himself for months.

Most recently, he led an attempt to have a block on the transition included in a US federal funding bill, which wound up being passed yesterday with no such clause attached.

The four-state AG complaint can be read here (pdf).

Destroy ICANN! Destroy ICANN with missiles!

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2016, Domain Policy

The year is 2016. The Kenyan Muslim president of the United States is poised to hand over control of the internet to the United Nations in an attempt to silence lunatic conspiracy theorists Matt Drudge and Alex Jones for good.

But you can help, by engaging in missile warfare with ICANN and the UN.

That’s the deranged premise of ICANN Command, a little browser game that appeared online this week.

It’s a knock-off of the 1980 Atari classic Missile Command. The intro reads:

You will be defending actual Internet domains from UN attack! Launch surface-to-air missiles in time to destroy UN Domain Seeking Missiles. If a UN missile reaches a domain, that domain is lost forever.

Or, call your senator right now!

This related video explains more.

It’s obviously been inspired by the anti-Obama rhetoric of Senator Ted Cruz and Wall Street Journal op-eds of L Gordon Crovitz, which have fed a fringe right-wing conspiracy theory that sees the UN taking control of the internet come October 1.

That’s the date the US government proposes to remove itself from its oversight role in ICANN’s IANA functions.

After that, ICANN will be overseen by a new multistakeholder process in which everybody, not the UN, has a voice.

InfoWars.com and DrudgeReport.com are safe, sadly.

You can check out the game here if you wish. I scanned it for viruses and mind-control rays and it seems safe.

Correction: what NTIA said about .com pricing

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2016, Domain Registries

The US government has not confirmed that it expects to keep Verisign’s .com registry fee capped at the current level until at least 2024, despite what DI reported on Monday.

At this URL we published an article reporting that the US government had confirmed that it was going to keep .com prices frozen at $7.85 for the next eight years.

That was based on a misreading of a letter from the Department of Commerce to Senator Ted Cruz and others, which merely explained how the price cap could be maintained without expressing a commitment to do so.

The letter actually said very little, and nothing of news value, so I thought it best to simply delete the original piece and replace it with this correction.

I regret the error.

Thanks to those readers who got in touch to point out the mistake.

US claims option to delay IANA transition as Cruz launches free speech doomsday clock

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2016, Domain Policy

The US government has told ICANN that it may extend the current IANA functions contract for a year, should something unexpected happen this month.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration wrote to ICANN (pdf) yesterday, to provide “preliminary notice” that it could extent the contract until September 30, 2017, if a “significant impediment” should occur before October 1, 2016.

It appears to be a formality. NTIA said:

the department intends to allow the IANA functions contract to expire as of October 1, 2016, barring any significant impediment. This notice preserves the Government’s rights under the contract during this interim period should there be a change in circumstance.

Under the contract, NTIA is allowed to extend the term for another year in the last 15 days of the current term, but it has to give 30 days notice to ICANN if it wants to do so.

NTIA assistant secretary Larry Strickling told ICANN (pdf) a couple weeks ago that it plans to allow the IANA contract to expire — thereby removing NTIA’s piddling influence in root zone management — October 1.

But the move is facing continued criticism from increasingly unhinged elements of the American political right, who have got it into their heads that the transition means Russia and China will be able to take over ICANN and crush free speech online.

The campaign has been spearheaded by Senator Ted Cruz and whoever pulls the strings of Wall Street Journal columnist L Gordon Crovitz, and has roped in a multitude of hard-right think-tanks.

The latest publicity push for the campaign saw Cruz yesterday launch a countdown clock on its Senate web page.

Countdown

Cruz’s site states:

If that proposal goes through, countries like Russia, China, and Iran could be able to censor speech on the Internet, including here in the U.S. by blocking access to sites they don’t like.

None of that is true, needless to say.

But the anti-transition sentiment is strong enough that it’s not impossible that there will be a “significant impediment” to the transition before October 1 — a legal injunction against the Federal government, perhaps — and the extension will enable ICANN to run IANA under the current regime for another year.

Cruz’s ICANN paranoia is now official Republican policy

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2016, Domain Policy

US Republicans have endorsed hitherto fringe views on the IANA transition as official party policy.

Yesterday delegates at the Republican National Convention approved the party’s 2016 Platform of the party, which “declares the Party’s principles and policies”.

Internet policy takes up just half a page of the 66-page document, but it’s half a page straight out of the paranoid mind of former presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz.

It talks of the transition of the US government from its involvement in DNS root zone management (what the GOP calls “web names”) as an “abandonment” of internet freedoms to Russia, China and Iran, which are ready to “devour” them.

Here’s the relevant passage in (almost) full.

Protecting Internet Freedom

The survival of the internet as we know it is at risk. Its gravest peril originates in the White House, the current occupant of which has launched a campaign, both at home and internationally, to subjugate it to agents of government. The President… has unilaterally announced America’s abandonment of the international internet by surrendering U.S. control of the root zone of web names [sic] and addresses. He threw the internet to the wolves, and they — Russia, China, Iran, and others — are ready to devour it.

We salute the Congressional Republicans who have legislatively impeded his plans to turn over the Information Freedom Highway to regulators and tyrants. That fight must continue, for its outcome is in doubt. We will consistently support internet policies that allow people and private enterprise to thrive, without providing new and expanded government powers to tax and regulate so that the internet does not become the vehicle for a dramatic expansion of government power.

The internet’s independence is its power. It has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. We will therefore resist any effort to shift control toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations. We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach. The only way to safeguard or improve these systems is through the private sector. The internet’s free market needs to be free and open to all ideas and competition without the government or service providers picking winners and losers.

Previously, such views had been expressed by just a handful of elected Republicans, notably Cruz, who has introduced a bill to block the IANA transition until Congress passes law specifically allowing it.

The irony in the latest GOP statement is that the transition is actually a transfer of power away from governments (specifically, the US government) into the private sector.

The current plan for a post-US ICANN, which was put together over two years by hundreds of participants mostly from the private sector, would see Governmental Advisory Committee advice carry less weight unless it receives full consensus.

In other words, if Iran, China and Russia want to destroy freedom of speech, they’ll have to persuade over 150 other governments to their cause.

Should that ever happen, a new multi-stakeholder (and in this example, government free) “Empowered Community” would have the power to put a stop to it.

The goal is to have the transition completed shortly after the current IANA contract between ICANN and the US Department of Commerce expires at the end of September.

That’s before the US presidential elections, of course, which take place in November.