Cruz wrongly fights against internet freedom, threatens future of intenet

G. Elliott Morris

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is making headlines as he launches a new crusade against the Obama administration. His newest fight, waged against the Administration’s Commerce Department, seeks to stall the transfer of Internet Assigned Numbers Authority from the Department to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to “protect freedom of the internet.” Essentially, the transition moves the authority to put Facebook at the web address to an international organization.

The senator from Texas is claiming a few falsehoods as facts in his crusade. The most outlandish of these is that ICANN has the power — or could obtain the power — to regulate internet freedoms on the basis of content. This fear seems to stem from a misunderstanding of what Internet Assigned Numbers Authority even is — IANA is not the ability to disable certain websites in certain countries, and it’s not the authority to refuse a domain name to any website. Rather, IANA ensures that your computer’s matches the Internet’s — it’s technical, not content-based.

Furthermore, even if IANA had the power to block websites,  the non-discriminatory and transparency provisions of the ICANN Bylaws effectively enforce the inability to do so by any ICANN actor. If you’re wondering, “But what if they change the rules?”  ICANN has answered in ensuring that any changes (Sec. 3.6) to such Bylaws have to be approved by the sixteen-member Board of Directors. Due to rules requiring any new board members have to be approved by majority rule of the Board further complicates a takeover of the Internet by ICANN.

Another falsehood being peddled by Cruz and his small gang of senators is that removing the United States from the picture allows other countries to regulate the Internet more handily. The first misstep here is Cruz’s claim that the Commerce Department holding IANA has prevented sovereign nations from restricting internet access in their country. This is empirically untrue, as authoritarian regimes in China have been forbidding certain access for years. Nothing about moving IANA away from the United States changes their ability to do so.

It appears that ICANN is indeed not a purveyor of a sanctioned internet. In fact, a real danger of restricted internet freedoms may actually be coming from Sen. Cruz himself, in the form of dismantling net neutrality. Net neutrality is the form of unrestricted, unthrottled internet access we enjoy today — it is assurance that internet service providers are prevented from slowing down your connection to Netflix or unless you (or Netflix) pay them extra money.

We should not forget that ISPs could also regulate your access to free expression via social media or free speech via newspapers. A non-neutral net is a also of grave concern to more than a hundred large tech companies who sent a letter to the FCC and Congress saying just this. Cruz has been on the wrong side of this battle from the start, fueling the fire with empty rhetoric and backwards logic that only empowers those who would otherwise be trampling our online liberties.  

Senator Cruz’s fight against ICANN-regulated domain names is his latest showing that he doesn’t know much when it comes to the reality of internet freedoms. Our junior senator is known for fighting against the Obama administration’s supposed injustices, but when it comes to a privately-run and free internet this is a battle in which he can’t be trusted. The future of the internet is simply too important to be riddled with lies.

Morris is a government junior from Port Aransas. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on twitter @gelliottmorris.