Judge Denies Attempt To Block Transfer Of Internet Oversight

As reported last week, in a last ditch effort to block Obama's plan to allow the US Commerce Department to hand over oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), or the "Internet's address book" to a multi-stakeholder community - which includes the technical community, businesses, civil society and foreign governments - 4 state attorneys general from Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada and Texas filed a lawsuit in a Texas federal court alleging that the transition, in the absence of congressional approval, amounts to an illegal forfeiture of U.S. government property. The lawsuit also expressed concern that the reorganized ICANN would be so unchecked that it could “effectively enable or prohibit speech on the Internet.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Nevada Attorney General Paul Laxalt filed a lawsuit on Wednesday night to stop the White House's proposed transition of ICANN functions. A primary function of ICANN is done by its Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) department, which coordinates the internet's domain name and IP address system. 

However, as of midnight last night, the transfer is officially complete after Obama-appointed US District Judge George Hanks ruled on Friday afternoon that the transfer of internet domain systems oversight to an international governing body can move forward, overruling the opposition from several state attorneys general and lawmakers. 

As a result, the transfer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from the U.S. to an international entity representing 162 countries will proceed on Saturday as planned.

As WND reported, it was the late Phyllis Schlafly who, earlier this year, characterized Obama’s plan as “like telling the fox to guard the chicken coop,” trusting the likes of Cuba, Venezuela and China to ensure the continued freedom of the Web.

The transfer of oversight to an obscure non-profit called the Internet Association for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, set for Saturday, “could be the most dangerous use yet of Obama’s now-famous pen,” the conservative icon said at the time. The states’ lawsuit against the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Department of Commerce and others sought a halt to the transfer.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Galveston, Texas, the lawsuit argued the U.S. funded the foundations of the Internet and for decades has been managing it appropriately, including through contracts such as the NTIA’s agreement with ICANN to perform Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions.

The complaint cited constitutional concerns and security risks of potentially losing the .mil and .gov domains for the military and government, respectively.

Republican lawmakers Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), John Thune (S.D.) and others had previously pushed to include language delaying the transition in the continuing resolution to fund the government, but were unsuccessful.

Presidential nominee Donald Trump also backed the effort to keep control of the organization in U.S. hands.

As WND adds, the lawsuit wasn’t the only opposition that has arisen in the fourth quarter. A coalition of 77 national security, cybersecurity and industry leaders wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just days ago asking for intervention.

“As individuals with extensive, first-hand experience with protecting our national security, we write to urge you to intervene in opposition to an imminent action that would, in our judgment, cause profound and irreversible damage to the United States’ vital interests,” the letter said.

“Indeed, there is, to our knowledge, no compelling reason for exposing the national security to such a risk by transferring our remaining control of the Internet in this way at this time. In light of the looming deadline, we feel compelled to urge you to impress upon President Obama that the contract between NTIA and ICANN cannot be safely terminated at this point.”

The signers included former Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney Jr., former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin (Ret.), former Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, former Director of the Defense Nuclear Agency Vice Adm. Robert Monroe (Ret.) and former Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Andrew McCarthy, among others.

They warned: “In the absence of U.S. government involvement in IANA, it seems possible that, over time, foreign powers – including potentially or actually hostile ones – will be able to influence the IANA process. Even coercing the delay in approving IP addresses could impact military capabilities. From a broader view, given the well-documented ambition of these actors to restrict freedom of expression and/or entrepreneurial activity on the Internet, such a transfer of authority to ICANN could have far-reaching and undesirable consequences for untold numbers of people worldwide.”

Just a few days earlier, GOP senators, including Chuck Grassley, Ted Crux, Roy Blunt, Richard Burr and Ron Johnson, released a statement opposing the giveaway.

“It is profoundly disappointing that the Obama administration has decided to press on with its plan to relinquish United States oversight of crucial Internet functions, even though Congress has not given its approval. For years, there has been a bipartisan understanding that the ICANN transition is premature and that critical questions remain unanswered about the influence of authoritarian regimes in Internet governance, the protection of free speech, the effect on national security, and impacts on consumers, just to name a few,” they said.

“Without adequate answers to these questions, it would be irresponsible to allow the transition to occur in 15 days simply because of an artificial deadline set by the Obama administration.

“In fact, Democrats at both the state and national level have echoed many of these concerns. For example, former President Bill Clinton has warned that ‘[a] lot of people who have been trying to take this authority away from the U.S. want to do it for the sole purpose of cracking down on Internet freedom and limiting it and having governments protect their backsides instead of empower[ing] their people.’

“The issue of Internet freedom should unite us Americans – Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. Partisanship and political gamesmanship have no place when it comes to the Internet, basic principles of freedom, and the right of individuals in our great nation and across the globe to speak online free from censorship.” In the lawsuit, the states warned that .gov addresses are at risk.

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