This week Giuseppe Macri from the Daily Caller reported that back in 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) hired on Tarek Kamel as senior advisor the CEO. He is touted as an expert on global Internet governance but there is just one problem; his questionable past. Kamel was the Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology until February 2011. He is probably best known for being held accountable, along with other top Egyptian officials, for shutting down the Internet during the Arab Spring Revolution of 2011.
In an open letter to Kamel during the Internet shutdown, former White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin said:
“Unless you act now, in your final hours as Minister, to reverse the Internet cutoff, your name will forever be associated with an unprecedented human rights violation on a national scale, and an economic catastrophe triggered by a shortsighted regime's drive for self-preservation.”
In response to Kamel and the Egyptian Government shutting down the Internet, President Obama said that the Egyptian people had “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny”. These are all rights that we hold true in the US and remain available on the Internet today. As a senior advisor to Fadi Chehadé President and CEO of ICANN, Kamel could greatly alter the landscape of Internet freedom should the US relinquish ICANN oversight.
On Wednesday April 3 the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing about the much discussed recent Commerce Department announcement. By relinquishing power over the Internet, the U.S. will be allowing a significant asset to potentially fall into the hands of a bad actor that could ruin freedom on the Internet as it is known today. Democrats believe that this is a step towards a truly free Internet but this belief was met with much criticism from Republicans, and for good reason. Republicans contend that our current system actually promotes a free Internet and this decision allows for the potential of a new country to take the place of the U.S. and start censoring the Internet.
Chehadé, President and CEO of ICANN, testified in Washington in front of the subcommittee in an attempt to quell fears and answer questions regarding possible abuse of the organization's capabilities beyond assigning names and numbers. Chehadé said in regards to the announcement from the Commerce Department that "At the heart of this proposal is the commitment to security, stability, and resiliency.” While this comment may sound good in theory, the problem remains that once the United States removes its authority there will be a great potential for catastrophe.
Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) warned that removing our powers will remove an important “backstop” that our country plays in such an event like an authoritarian regime attempting to interfere with free Internet. This problem has to be dealt with in a proactive plan rather than reactive. Once enacted, this cannot be reversed. As Rep. Walden said at the hearing “there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle.”
One of the arguments in favor of the Department of Commerce relinquishing oversight is that, in essence, ICANN is merely the white pages of the Internet. In its current form, ICANN is merely the white pages, but without the Department of Commerce's commitment to maintaining that role there is nothing preventing a future ICANN from expanding its areas of influence and control.
The ability to assign and create names and numbers is in itself a power to wield. Without proper oversight, domain names such as ".sucks" could be used to extort companies and besmirch individuals. Currently companies are able to turn to Congress and the Administration to hold hearings that encourage and increase ICANN's accountability and transparency. Furthermore, as a non-profit with headquarters in the United States it is subject to the American judicial system and legal proceedings. At the termination of its contract there is no telling where ICANN would choose to incorporate, but one cannot imagine that it would be beneficial for the world's Internet population as a whole if ICANN incorporated in North Korea.
Of course North Korea is an unlikely headquarters location, but it is one of the most vivid examples of government censorship and control that is incredibly damaging to its citizens. With the "Internet of things" quickly entering our day-to-day lives, censorship and control does not only mean the words you speak or send, but the energy you use, the food you eat, and the times you sleep.
It is widely known that countries like Russia, China, and Turkey are proponents of Internet censorship. If the U.S. goes through with this proposal scheduled for October 2015, a scenario where a country or consortium of countries attempts to changed stifle or control the free flow of information internationally is not out of the realm of possibility.
While Chehadé says he is committed to stability and resiliency, it is quite the opposite message to have Kamel as a senior advisor, or in any position at ICANN for that matter, considering his involvement with shutting down the Internet in Egypt during the revolution in 2011.