Not only has the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) contracted for years with the federal government to perform Web functions, but it is also a key player in the Obama Administration’s plan to relinquish oversight authority over the Internet’s basic domain name structure. So it raised eyebrows in the Senate when ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade decided to serve as a leader on an advisory panel for a much-criticized Internet effort of the Chinese government.
In a letter sent to Mr. Chehade this week, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), James Lankford (R-OK), and Mike Lee (R-UT) declared, “As you must know, the World Internet Conference is not a beacon of free speech.” They noted many objections raised to this conference by advocates for Internet freedom internationally and said, “ICANN’s participation in the World Internet Conference is especially concerning because of the Chinese government’s long and established record of restricting free access to the Internet, censoring content, and criminalizing certain forms of online speech.” Also of concern to the Senators were other members on the advisory panel from Russia, Iran, and other countries with poor records on Internet freedom.
Among a series of pointed questions, the Senators asked Mr. Chehade, “Did the advisory committee discuss the IANA transition or the role of the United States Government?” They also inquired, “Do you believe that your attendance and participation in the World Internet Conference makes ICANN complicit in the Chinese censorship regime?”
The current contract with ICANN extends through September 30, 2016, and last year’s omnibus appropriations bill included a prohibition on any movement by the Commerce Department toward a transition of its Internet oversight authority during FY2016. Members of Congress have numerous concerns, including the worry that a foreign government could attempt to fill the power vacuum and undermine Internet freedom.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: February 5, 2016