Civil society tells U.S. Senate: Open the internet to inclusive oversight


On Tuesday, the U.S. Congress held a hearing on the future of the internet. Specifically, members of the senate asked assembled experts, mostly from industry groups — and all white men, unfortunately — whether they should delay a proposed transition of the process and structures for managing the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). Congress should get out of the way and allow the transition to continue.

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) publishes the equivalent of the phone book for the internet. It assigns names and numbers so that our data can navigate the internet. Currently, the IANA is mandated to include a U.S. government body, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), in its operations managing aspects of the DNS. This is unnecessary and gives the U.S. government the appearance of control of the internet. Access Now has supported a multistakeholder process to transition control of this agency to the international internet community.  If all goes as planned, the transition will be approved next fall. However, congressional representatives have threatened to delay the move by denying funding to NTIA or requiring a “stress test” of the new structures, among other measures.

In preparation for the hearing to discuss these threatened delays, Access Now and other civil society groups and experts issued a statement, now entered in the official record, that calls on the U.S. Congress not to delay the transition. While the proposal is far from perfect, we support the IANA Transition’s speedy conclusion for several reasons.

First, delays will just encourage and play into the hands of those countries looking to restrict and fragment the internet under strict intergovernmental control. As we note in the letter, failure to move ahead with the IANA transition now will empower those who advocate for governments alone to manage or regulate the internet, without equal involvement of the private sector or civil society. Russia and China, for example, routinely push for the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to regulate the internet, and would pounce on any delays as a signal that a government-only body should take control. As the sole government overseeing the DNS, the U.S. has an opportunity now to shift power to an inclusive, balanced set of stakeholders who spent two years on this transition plan — a chance the U.S. must not pass up. Moreover, as participants mentioned in Tuesday’s hearing, the current IANA contract ends in 2018. At that time, the U.S. would have to face telling other governments that it will not give up control of the DNS. Their reaction would not be pleasant.

Second, human rights are on the line — though not in the way U.S. Senator Ted Cruz believes. To protect human rights in the 21st century, it is essential that the open, interoperable, global internet continue to function. We and the other organizations that signed the joint statement depend upon the stable and secure operation of the internet to do our work, every day. So do the human rights defenders, journalists, and other civil society groups we work with, all around the world. This contradicts the beliefs of Senator Cruz, who sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce last week with the strange message that increasing human rights protections would allow or encourage internet censorship. In fact, the transition includes a plan to enhance protection of human rights like freedom of expression and privacy online.

Finally, there is no technical reason for NTIA’s involvement in DNS management. The NTIA and the U.S. government have no special technical expertise or capacity that the rest of the world lacks. In fact, one expert testifying before Congress on Tuesday compared the NTIA role to a vulnerability. Software developers try to get rid of unneeded features in their code, which are ”just bugs waiting to happen,” Andrew Sullivan of the Internet Architecture Board told the Senate. Similarly, Congress must allow the the global multistakeholder community to eliminate the unnecessary government involvement in the IANA functions. As we make clear in our letter, the transition path outlined will “continue stable and resilient DNS administration that supports the interests of public and private stakeholders across societies and industries.”

Join us in calling on the U.S. Congress not to delay the IANA transition by signing onto our letter here.