The Internet, as we know it, is moving ever closer to falling into the hands of people and governments who don’t respect the right to free speech.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for oversight of domain name registration, an important role in Internet governance. To ensure this all runs smoothly, and fairly, the US government retains jurisdiction over the organization.
This is about to change.
The Commerce Department recently approved a plan that would transition ICANN from under US oversight, to a purely independent organization. This would expand their role from what is essentially being the white pages of the Internet, to one that has far more control and influence over the basic function of the web. Not to mention, they would be beholden to no one.
Once ICANN gains autonomy, it may choose to incorporate in any nation they choose, where it is not subject to the US justice system, and where these governments’ authorities would have some measure of influence in their decision-making. This would be devastating.
Tarek Kamel, the Senior Advisor to the President of ICANN, is well-known for being responsible for shutting down the Internet in Egypt amid Arab Spring protests. A voice like Kamel’s would hold a lot more weight should ICANN ever become independent from the US.
Despite Kamel’s shadowy past and history with blatant censorship, ICANN’s own website holds him up as a “visionary strategist in driving and developing Egypt’s ICT sector” and praises his “pivotal role” in shaping Egypt’s national policy and claimed he had made Egypt “a regional role model.”
Further, ICANN has repeatedly refused to comply with Senate requests for information about its relationship with the Chinese government, a known authoritarian regime that censors speech on the Internet.
As a nation that values speech as a sacred right, there is no excuse for allowing an organization that praises those who put down dissidents. The future of the Internet holds many obstacles to free expression, if Internet governance came under an oppressive regime.