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The first step toward the global suppression of free speech on the Internet will take place at midnight on September 30, when the Obama administration cedes control of the World Wide Web to foreign interests.
L. Gordon Crovitz of The Washington Post has penned two pieces outlining the collision course of American free speech. The first, "Stop Obama's Internet Giveaway" in March, 2016, and a recent follow-up piece called "An Internet Giveaway to the U.N." discuss the potential fallout of not preventing President Obama from allowing a government contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to expire.
Under Obama's direction, the Commerce Department was charged with ending American oversight and ensure that foreign entities could not make an internet power grab.
Crovitz rightly disagrees with that outcome, stating that "because of the (Obama) administration's naiveté or arrogance, U.N. control is the likely result if the U.S. gives up internet stewardship..."
Without a U.S. agreement to operate with antitrust exemptions, ICANN would likely seek to be overseen by another agency, organization or foreign power. As a non-profit, the body's rules and regulations are determined by a board and the shift would be a tremendous opportunity for countries that routinely suppress free speech, such as Russia and China, to infiltrate, gain authority and impose their worldviews on a global scale.
Likewise, the Obama administration has been no friend to free speech. Government employees in the administration have already been accused of suppressing opposing political views.
In particular, the Internal Revenue Service came under scrutiny for targeting conservative political groups and impeding their ability to gain non-profit status before the last presidential election.
In a recent article, The Daily Wire charges that "The lobbying for the end of U.S. control of the Internet intensified due to Edward Snowden. After Snowden's leaks of the National Security Agency's government surveillance emerged, ICANN and other foreign governments used the U.S.'s use of surveillance in other countries as reason to end U.S. control of Internet governance."
Snowden, a whistleblower, leaked classified information which many viewed as war crimes by the U.S. military to the non-profit journalistic organization WikiLeaks. Snowden has been living as an exile in Russia and has been charged in absentia by the United States under the 1917 Espionage Act for absconding with classified documents.
In recent months, WikiLeaks also made a splash by releasing Democratic National Committee communications that suggested the party skewed its dealing against presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Although shutting down an online organization such as WikiLeaks would run contrary to the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, countries like Russia and China, among others, may be more inclined to end the dissemination of such sensitive materials. Under a different set of standards, such information could be kept from the public going forward.
The Daily Wire goes on to point out that once the U.S. surrenders control over ICANN, "it will likely fall under the (International Telecommunications Unit) ITU's control and risk being subject to censorship."
Journalists at both The Daily Wire and Wall Street Journal agree that handing over control could have dangerous ramifications.
"Even more chilling is the fact that ITU had passed a treaty that provided 'authority to governments to close off their citizens' access to the global Internet'" and creating 'a digital Iron Curtain.'"
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Sen. Sean Duffy have introduced a bill to stop the shift in internet power and Investor's Business Daily noted as far back as three years ago Cruz was concerned about this day arriving.
"The likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Chinese President Xi Jinping should not dictate what can be read, written, distributed, bought and sold on the internet," the former presidential candidate wrote. "Countries that do not give their own people the right to speak freely deserve no say in what Americans can say and do on the internet."
The Texas senator has also called for potential administrative regulations to prevent opening this Pandora's Box. And even before the clock strikes midnight on U.S. free speech protections, the seeds of China's influence are already being sown.
ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé recently agreed to become a senior advisor to China's World Internet Conference, which is an organization Beijing has developed directly to compete with ICANN. According to The Washington Post, "Its goal is to replace the open Internet with full government control and global censorship."
When confronted by Sen. Cruz about China's internet censorship and relationship with ICANN, Chehade appeared to threaten that if the America retains oversight, it "would have grave repercussions on the U.S."
Recent studies show that 66 percent of Americans oppose relinquishing control of the internet and 69 percent say that it's either "somewhat" or "very likely" that a country like China, Russia or Iran would attempt to seize control.
As University of Surrey Prof. Alan Woodward succinctly put it, this is "about who officially controls the foundations of the internet/web addresses and domain names, without which the network wouldn't function."