Conservatives in Congress, led by Sen. Ted Cruz, are rallying to maintain the U.S. government’s role managing a group that oversees domain names on the Internet. The fight could threaten negotiations over a short-term government spending bill that must be passed before Sept. 30 to keep the government open.
The U.S. government is scheduled to transfer its authority over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to the international community on Oct. 1.
But the Texas senator and former presidential candidate is crusading to use the government funding bill to block the Obama administration’s plans over fears it could give foreign governments greater control over the Internet. The Obama administration has insisted that the transition must occur next month and the last-minute fight has snarled negotiations on a short-term continuing resolution.
Cruz insists the issue is a matter of national security because ending the U.S. government’s ICANN stewardship would, he argues, give countries like Iran and Russia greater control over the Internet at a time when Russia is being accused of hacking sensitive political information.
Cruz told reporters it should be a simple issue that should not create a shutdown threat.
“I think that is a red herring,” the senator said. “This is an issue that should bring us together in support of shared values.”
Cruz has remained relatively quiet since he returned to the Senate after suspending his presidential campaign in May. But the senator, who was infamously blamed for shutting down the government in 2013, has chosen to take a stand over ICANN less than two months before the election.
Republicans are pushing for the spending bill to include a measure that would prevent the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) from using money from the appropriations process to wind down the government’s authority over ICANN. Cruz has support from high-ranking Republican senators like Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and GOP leadership has been pushing to include the measure in the upcoming spending bill.
Spending bills have traditionally included similar provisions but the Obama administration has been working for several years to hand ICANN’s reins over to the international community. Republicans now oppose that change and have adopted the position in the budget negotiations — it remains one of a handful of unresolved issues preventing a spending deal.
“It is a longstanding appropriations rider prohibiting the giveaway of the Internet,” Cruz told reporters on Wednesday “Maintaining current law should not surprise Democrats.”
Democrats warned that the issue could throw a serious wrench into budget negotiations.
“My concern is that raising these issues at this late date may well lead to a fight on the floor or a fight in the appropriations process,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on oversight, agency action, federal rights and federal courts which oversees the ICANN issue. “The only way we strengthen the hand of authoritarian governments that oppose a free and open Internet is failing to make this transition in timely fashion.”
On Wednesday, Cruz called a hearing at the Senate Judiciary Oversight subcomittee that he chairs to hear testimony on a potential delay in ending the U.S. government’s management of the domain name system.
At that hearing, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information National Telecommunications Lawrence E. Strickling testified that the government has worked with stakeholders for two years to develop a plan to end the organization. He said failing to complete the transition could cause chaos.
“Despite the open and transparent two-year process to develop the plan, misperceptions and outright misrepresentations about the plan continue to circulate,” Strickling said. “The potential for serious consequences from extending the contract beyond the time necessary for ICANN to complete implementation is very real.”