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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.

Verisign to get .com for six more years, but prices to stay frozen

ICANN and Verisign have agreed to extend their .com registry contract for another six years, but there are no big changes in store for .com owners.

Verisign will now get to run the gTLD until November 30, 2024.

The contract was not due to expire until 2018, but the two parties have agreed to renew it now in order to synchronize it with Verisign’s new contract to run the root zone.

Separately, ICANN and Verisign have signed a Root Zone Maintainer Agreement, which gives Verisign the responsibility to make updates to the DNS root zone when told to do so by ICANN’s IANA department.

That’s part of the IANA transition process, which will (assuming it isn’t scuppered by US Republicans) see the US government’s role in root zone maintenance disappear later this year.

Cunningly, Verisign’s operation of the root zone is technically intermingled with its .com infrastructure, using many of the same security and redundancy features, which makes the two difficult to untangle.

There are no other substantial changes to the .com agreement.

Verisign has not agreed to take on any of the rules that applies to new gTLDs, for example.

It also means wholesale .com prices will be frozen at $7.85 for the foreseeable future.

The deal only gives Verisign the right to raise prices if it can come up with a plausible security/stability reason, which for one of the most profitable tech companies in the world seems highly unlikely.

Pricing is also regulated by Verisign’s side deal (pdf) with the US Department of Commerce, which requires government approval for any price increases until such time as .com no longer has dominant “market power”.

The .com extension is now open for public comment.

Predictably, it’s already attracted a couple of comments saying that the contract should instead be put out to tender, so a rival registry can run the show for cheaper.

That’s never, ever, ever, ever going to happen.

NTIA gives nod to IANA transition

Kevin Murphy, June 9, 2016, Domain Policy

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration has formally thrown its weight behind the community-led proposal that would remove the US government, itself in effect, from DNS root oversight.

Assistant secretary Larry Strickling held a press conference this afternoon to confirm the hardly surprising development, but dodged questions about a Republican move to scupper the plan in Congress.

The IANA transition plan, which was developed by the ICANN community over about two years, meets all the criteria NTIA had set out in its surprise 2014 announcement, Strickling confirmed.

Namely, NTIA said in a press release that the the plan would:

  • Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
  • Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  • Meet the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and
  • Maintain the openness of the Internet.

Probably more importantly, NTIA agrees with everyone else that the plan does not replace NTIA’s role with more government meddling.

US Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Sean Duffy see things differently. They yesterday introduced the Protecting Internet Freedom Act, which would stop the transition going ahead.

Strickling said that NTIA has been talking to Congress members about the transition, but declined to “speculate” about the new bill’s likelihood of success.

“We’ve been up on the Hill doing briefings and will continue to do so with any member that wants to talk to us,” he said.

Currently, NTIA is forbidden by law from spending any money on the transition, but that prohibition expires (unless it is renewed) at the end of the current federal budget cycle.

The plan is to carry out the transition after that, Strickling said.

The current IANA contract expires September 30. It may be extended, depending on how quickly ICANN and Verisign proceed on their implementation tasks.

Cruz-Duffy bill would put brakes on IANA transition

Kevin Murphy, June 9, 2016, Domain Policy

America’s continuing unique oversight role in the DNS root management system, fuck yeah!

That’s basically the takeaway from a new bit of proposed US legislation, put forward by Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Sean Duffy in both houses of Congress yesterday.

The two Republican Congressmen have proposed the inappropriately named Protecting Internet Freedom Act, which is specifically designed to scupper the IANA transition at the eleventh hour.

PIFA would prevent the National Telecommunications and Information Administration from backing away from its role in the DNS root management triumvirate.

It’s supported, ironically, by a bunch of small-government right-wing think tanks and lobby groups.

If the bill is enacted, NTIA would need a further act of Congress in order to cancel or allow to expire its current IANA functions contract with ICANN

The bill (pdf) reads:

The Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information may not allow the responsibility of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration with respect to the Internet domain name system functions, including responsibility with respect to the authoritative root zone file and the performance of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions, to terminate, lapse, expire, be cancelled, or otherwise cease to be in effect unless a Federal statute enacted after the date of enactment of this Act expressly grants the Assistant Secretary such authority.

The bill also seeks to ensure that the US government has “sole ownership” of the .gov and .mil TLDs “in perpetuity”.

These ownership rights are not and have never been in question; the inclusion of this language in the bill looks like a cheap attempt to stir up Congresspeople’s basest jingoistic tendencies.

A Cruz press release said the IANA transition “will allow over 160 foreign governments to have increased influence over the management and operation of the Internet.”

Duffy added:

President Obama wants to hand over the keys to the Internet to countries like China and Russia. This is reckless and absurd. The governments of these countries do not value free speech. In fact, they censor the Internet and routinely repress and punish political dissidents. They cannot be trusted with something as fundamental to free speech as a free and open Internet.

It’s unfiltered scaremongering.

No country — not China, Russia, the US nor any other government — gets increased powers under the IANA transition proposal, which was painstakingly crafted by, and is now supported by, pretty much all community stakeholders over two years.

In fact, governmental power is significantly curtailed under the proposal.

Post-transition, the Governmental Advisory Committee’s current voting practice, which essentially requires unanimity, would be enshrined in ICANN’s bylaws.

If the GAC came to ICANN with advice that did not have consensus — that is, some governments formally objected to it — ICANN would be able to reject it much more easily than it can today.

The one area where the GAC does get a new role is in the so-called “Empowered Community”, a new concept that will enter the ICANN bylaws post-transition.

The Empowered Community would be a non-profit legal entity formed by the ICANN community in the exceptional event that the ICANN board goes rogue and starts doing really egregious stuff that nobody wants — for example, introducing Draconian policy regulating freedom of speech.

The EC would have the power to kick out the ICANN board members of its choice, reject the ICANN budget, throw out proposed bylaws amendments and so on. As far as ICANN is concerned, the EC would be God.

Its members, or “Decisional Participants” would be the GNSO, the ccNSO, the ALAC, the ASO and the GAC.

The fact that the GAC has a seat at the EC table is the straw that Cruz, Duffy and co grasp at when they talk about governments getting increased power in a post-transition ICANN.

But the GAC’s voice is equal to those of the other four participants, and the GAC is not allowed a vote on matters stemming from ICANN’s implementation of consensus GAC advice.

In other words, the only way Cruz’s boogeymen governments would ever get to push through a censorship policy would be if that policy was also supported by all the other governments or by the majority of the diverse, multi-stakeholder ICANN community.

The arguments of Cruz and Duffy are red herrings, in other words.

Not only that, but the US record on attempted censorship of the DNS root is hardly exemplary.

While it’s generally been quietly hands-off for the majority of the time ICANN has had its hand on the rudder, there was a notable exception.

The Bush-era NTIA, following a letter-writing campaign by the religious right — Bible-thumping Cruz’s base — exerted pressure on ICANN to reject the proposed porn-only .xxx gTLD.

So who’s the real threat here, Red China or Ted Cruz, the man who tried to ban the sale of dildos in Texas?

The Protecting Internet Freedom Act is obviously still just a bill, but Republicans still control both houses of Congress so it’s not impossible that the tens of thousands of hours the ICANN community has put into the IANA transition could be sacrificed on the altar of embarrassing the President, who is probably Kenyan anyway.

ICANN refuses to play Ted Cruz’s game

Kevin Murphy, April 8, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN has blown off US senator Ted Cruz by declining to answer a bunch of framed questions about its engagement with China.

In a letter (pdf) to Cruz and fellow senators Michael Lee and James Lankford, ICANN chair Steve Crocker testily explains that ICANN has offices and relationships all over the world, given the nature of its mandate.

There’s a suggestion that ICANN’s board resents the “insinuation” that talking to China means it’s ready to be captured by it or implement its censorship policies.

Crocker wrote:

ICANN does not endorse the views of any particular stakeholder, regardless of the organization’s engagement efforts, the composition of its advisory committees, and where it holds its meetings. In this sense, ICANN’s engagement with China as a global Internet stakeholder does not suggest any level of support for the nation’s government or its policies. Similarly, no endorsement of such matters could reasonably be inferred from the operations of the United States’ largest technology firms operating in China, including Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Uber. These firms, like ICANN, do not endorse the policies, laws, and regulations of China simply by operating there. As long as the U.S. Government has a policy of engagement with China, U.S. firms operate there without the insinuation that doing so makes them complicit in China’s censorship.

The letter was written in response to a bullet-pointed list of a few dozen question Cruz has posed in letters over the last couple of months.

The Cruz missives were a fairly obvious fishing expedition, with the senators apparently looking for sticks to beat ICANN with in the form of evidence that the organization is too friendly with the dreaded Chinese.

Some on the right wing of American politics seem to see the transition of ICANN/IANA partially away from US government oversight as a wedge issue they can use to show Obama is happily selling the ‘Murican constitution to China.

But Crocker ducks most of Cruz’s questions, preferring instead to present an alternative narrative.

He does not, for example, give answers to simple factual questions related to former CEO Fadi Chehade’s joining as co-chair of a committee of the China-led World Internet Conference.

Instead, he refers Cruz to a previous letter from Chehade, and notes that Chehade is no longer with ICANN.

He does not answer anything related to XYZ.com’s proposals related to selling .xyz domain names in China, which Cruz reckons could be used to censor the people of Hong Kong.

Neither does he confirm that ICANN pays government-affiliated CNNIC for collocated office space in Beijing, which wasn’t disclosed until it came out at a press conference last month.

I imagine Cruz, in receipt of Crocker’s letter, is feeling much the same as I do when an interviewee waffles in response to simple questions.

Pissed off.

I doubt this exchange is over.