Constitutionality of Internet Authority Transfer Questioned

ConstitutionFour key Members of Congress are asking questions about the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s plan to transition Internet oversight authority to a private stakeholder group.  In a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) expressed concern that such an effort could potentially violate Article IV of the Constitution by transferring U.S. Government property without authorization from Congress. 

This bicameral letter specifically draws attention to the “root zone file,” which “was funded by the American taxpayer and coordinated by the Department of Defense” and “which the federal government currently designates as a ‘national IT asset.’”  Noting the power reserved to Congress in Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution “to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States,” the letter then requests a detailed analysis of this issue from the non-partisan GAO. 

Senator Cruz, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee, stated in a related press release, “If the contract governing U.S. oversight of the Internet is indeed government property, the Administration’s intention to cede control to the ‘global stakeholder community’ -- including nations like Iran, Russia and China that do not value free speech and in fact seek to stifle it -- is in violation of the Constitution and should be stopped.” 

Legislation has passed the House and advanced through the Senate Commerce Committee to give Congress a review period after the Administration establishes all the details of its Internet transition plan. However, Senator Cruz has urged additional language that would require Congress to affirmatively vote for any plan before it is implemented.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: October 2, 2015

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