Very soon, on October 1, 2016, much of the internet's governance will shift from the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) authority to a nonprofit multi-stakeholder entity, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, also known by its acronym ICANN. As The Gatestone Institute's Judith Bergmann explains,
Until now, NTIA has been responsible for key internet domain name functions, such as the coordination of the DNS (Domain Name System) root, IP addresses, and other internet protocol resources. But in March 2014, the U.S. announced its plan to let its contract with ICANN to operate key domain name functions expire in September 2015, passing the oversight of the agency to a global governance model. The expiration was subsequently delayed until October 1, 2016.
According to the NTIA's press release at the time, "NTIA's responsibility includes the procedural role of administering changes to the authoritative root zone file – the database containing the lists of names and addresses of all top-level domains – as well as serving as the historic steward of the DNS. NTIA currently contracts with ICANN to carry out the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions and has a Cooperative Agreement with Verisign under which it performs related root zone management functions. Transitioning NTIA out of its role marks the final phase of the privatization of the DNS as outlined by the U.S. Government in 1997".
According to the NTIA, from the inception of ICANN, the U.S. government and internet stakeholders envisioned that the U.S. role in the IANA functions would be temporary. The Commerce Department's June 10, 1998 Statement of Policy stated that the U.S. government "is committed to a transition that will allow the private sector to take leadership for DNS management." The official reason, therefore, is that: "ICANN as an organization has matured and taken steps in recent years to improve its accountability and transparency and its technical competence. At the same time, international support continues to grow for the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance as evidenced by the continued success of the Internet Governance Forum and the resilient stewardship of the various Internet institutions".
The Obama Administration says that the transition will have no practical effects on the internet's functioning or its users, and even considers the move necessary in order to maintain international support for the internet and to prevent a fracturing of its governance.
Civil society groups and activists are calling on Congress to sue the Obama Administration -- perhaps at least to postpone the date until more Americans are aware of the plan.
However, never one to miss an opportunity, The Daily Caller's Peter Hasson reports that:
An internal proposed strategy from George Soros' Open Society Justice Initiative calls for international regulation of private actors’ decisions on “what information is taken off the Internet and what may remain.”
Those regulations, the document notes, should favor “those most supportive of open society.”
The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) is part of the Open Society Foundations, Soros’s secretive network of political organizations. According to the organization’s website, “The Open Society Justice Initiative uses law to protect and empower people around the world, supporting the values and work of the Open Society Foundations.”
The call for international control of the internet is part of a 34-page document titled “2014 Proposed strategy” that lays out OSJI’s goals for between 2014 and 2017.
The leaked document was one of 2,500 documents released by “hacktivist” group DCLeaks. As reported by The Daily Caller, the section of DCLeaks’ website dealing with Soros has since gone offline for unknown reasons. TheDC saved a version of the 2014 strategy before the site went offline.
In the document, OSJI argues that international regulation of the Internet is needed to protect freedom of expression.
“Our freedom of expression work furthers the free exchange of information and ideas via the media and internet, and proposes to begin to address the free expression and association rights of NGOs. The internet has been a key tool for promoting freedom of expression and open societies — as in the Arab Spring — and is a potential safeguard against monopoly control of information in such places as China and Central Asia,” page 19 of the document notes.
“But it is also presenting underaddressed challenges, including lack of regulation of private operators that are able to decide, without due process procedures, what information is taken off the Internet and what may remain. A ‘race to the bottom’ results from the agendas of undemocratic governments that seek to impose their hostility to free speech on the general online environment. We seek to ensure that, from among the norms emerging in different parts of the world, those most supportive of open society gain sway.”
One of the “Program concepts and initiatives” listed in the document is to “Promote — by advocating for the adoption of nuanced legal norms, and litigation — an appropriate balance between privacy and free expression/transparency values in areas of particular interest to OSF and the Justice Initiative, including online public interest speech, access to ethnic data, public health statistics, corporate beneficial ownership, asset declarations of public officials, and rights of NGOs to keep information private.”
Another initiative is to “Establish states’ responsibility to collect data necessary to reveal patterns of inequality, and define modes of collection that are effective and protect privacy.”
Throughout the document, OSJI’s position appears to be that private actors on the internet must be brought under international control in order to prevent them from suppressing each other’s freedom of expression and speech.
One of the organization’s goals is to “Establish soft law and judicial precedents safeguarding online free expression, including adequate protection against blocking of online content, intermediary liability, user standing, and related issues.”
“One weakness of current efforts to promote online free expression has been the relatively sparse and uneven use of the international human rights law framework, including protections for free speech. This may be due to the paucity of coordinated efforts to generate hard law, and some soft law, in this area, both domestically and internationally,” the document states later, before noting the opportunity for the organization to influence “international free speech law in the online environment.”
“One reason for this failure may be that the leading digital rights groups/movements have developed separately and at a certain distance from the traditional free speech groups (though this is beginning to change). The Justice Initiative, working with other OSF programs that fund leading players in both sub-fields, is well placed to help bridge that gap and promote the use and development of international free speech law in the online environment.”
The U.S. is set to cede control of the internet, stoking fears that the internet could eventually be subject to the United Nations instead.
OSF previously called DCLeaks’s release of the documents “a symptom of an aggressive assault on civil society and human rights activists that is taking place globally.”