It's been a couple of weeks. That means it's time for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to sue the federal government again. This time, he's picking up his fellow Texan Ted Cruz' fight against what they both claim is the Obama administration's turning over control of the internet to a mysterious foreign entity.
Cruz has railed against the Obama administration's plan to halt U.S. oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on Oct. 1, turning supervision of the organization over to private organizations and businesses. All of this raises a few obvious questions.
1. What is ICANN? — ICANN is, effectively, the internet's traffic cop. It manages IP addresses across the world, ensuring that when you type dallasobserver.com into your web browser, the browser actually pulls down and displays dallasobserver.com. It coordinates how IP addresses are assigned, making sure no two websites have the same address. ICANN describes what it does as providing “universal resolvability,” which means, according to ICANN, "that wherever you are on the network – and hence the world – that you receive the same predictable results when you access the network. Without this, you could end up with an internet that worked entirely differently depending on your location on the globe." ICANN also regulates things like USB ports, making sure your peripheral devices work across the world.
2. Why is it run by the U.S. government? — The U.S. was one of the first countries to develop significant internet infrastructure. ICANN was created in 1998 to ensure communication across the burgeoning internet structures and placed under the authority of the U.S. Commerce Department.
3. Why kick ICANN from federal oversight? — Since ICANN's formation, the plan has always been to turn it over to the private entities that help create and shape the internet. President Obama announced plans to finalize the process this year in 2014. ICANN is already run by a 21-member board of directors — 15 nominated by an independent nominating and six chosen from the support organizations that help ICANN do what it does. The federal government is ending its oversight of ICANN.
4. Why is Paxton so upset about what's happening? — Cruz says that the Obama administration is turning over the internet to foreign powers. Because some of the private organizations that already help run ICANN are based in China, Russia and Iran, Paxton believes that free speech on the internet will be threatened, despite the fact that the internet is already censored in those countries and the fact that ICANN has — so far — never had anything to do with the internet's content.
"When ICANN escapes from government authority, ICANN escapes from having to worry about the First Amendment, having to worry about protecting your rights or my rights," Cruz told Congress in September.
5. What grounds is Paxton suing on? — Paxton says that Obama is giving away U.S. property without congressional approval, violating the Constitution's property clause. Obama is also violating the First Amendment, Paxton says, by chilling free speech.
“Trusting authoritarian regimes to ensure the continued freedom of the internet is lunacy,” Paxton said. “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.”
ICANN is not commenting on the impending takeover, but the White House has claimed the Cruz arguments don't make sense.
“Cruz' argument doesn’t withstand scrutiny,” one spokesman said at a press conference earlier this month. “It also strikes me as a curious position for a self-described small government conservative to shut down the government to ensure that the federal government can continue to control the internet. It doesn’t make any sense.”
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