'Stop Obama handing over US internet control': Four states sue in last-ditch bid

A last-minute law suit aims stop the Obama administration from giving up its oversight of the internet's naming system.

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Texas attorney general Ken Paxton: "The president does not have the authority to simply give away America's pioneering role."

Image: Attorney General of Texas

Four Republican state attorneys have filed a suit in a last-ditch effort to stop the Obama administration from handing control of the internet's naming system to ICANN.

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The attorneys general for Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Texas filed the suit in the Southern District of Texas, asking a judge to block the US government from handing over its oversight of the internet's domain name system (DNS) to California-based non-profit ICANN.

The US National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) is scheduled to cede its role to ICANN on Saturday, bringing to fruition a multi-stakeholder plan that's been in the works for 20 years.

The attorneys general argue that ICANN could allow key top-level domains such as .gov and .mil to be snatched from US government control.

With ICANN not under US control, they also fear that "authoritarian regimes like Russia, China, and Iran will now have the ability to interfere with what should be a free and open internet".

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said trusting authoritarian regimes to ensure the continued freedom of the internet is lunacy.

"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," he said.

Conservative politicians believe the handover will open the US to national security threats. However, US tech giants, including Google, Twitter, Amazon and Yahoo, back the transition, arguing it will support innovation.

Until Saturday, ICANN is contracted by the Department of Commerce to administer the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority under the watch of the NTIA. IANA handles changes to the authoritative root zone file of DNS, which contains a list of names and addresses for all top-level domains.

NTIA and ICANN have published correspondence from June affirming that changes made to .mil and .gov can only be made after gaining written approval from the US government.

However, conservative groups have argued that the US government needed congressional approval to cede control of IANA.

The suit argues much the same, claiming that the Obama administration, by not gaining approval from Congress, violated the Property Clause of the US Constitution, and that NTIA lacks the statutory authority to cede control of DNS to ICANN.

It also claims there's a threat to the First Amendment if ICANN doesn't commit to complying with its free-speech protections.

"The transition raises serious constitutional concerns," said Berin Szóka, president of conservative group TechFreedom. "A lawsuit is the only way to address them before the administration takes the irreversible step of giving up America's stewardship of the internet."

"This isn't about US government control, it's about defending the global internet stakeholder community against ICANN's 'executive branch', which may prove as unwilling to be shackled by legal safeguards as the administration," Szóka said.

ICANN bylaws prohibit government officials from serving as voting board members, although governments can attempt to sway the board through the Government Advisory Committee.

Despite national security fears, even former top US national security officials, Michael Chertoff and James Cartwright, support the transition to ICANN.

In a joint post, they recently argued: "If the US refuses to turn over its legacy, ministerial oversight of ICANN to the private sector, the private sector may end up with no voice in global internet governance."

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