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Ignorance Is Not A Virtue: Why Those Who Claim President’s Obama Is “Giving Away the Internet” Are Misinformed.

Wielding ignorance like a sword, Bryan Fischer believes that President Obama is “giving the internet away”. Host of Focal Point, a conservative talk-radio show and proud promoter of “muscular Christianity”, Fischer uses fear, misinformation and the Bible as weapons to “educate” his audience about society and politics.

During his radio broadcast recently, he attacked Obama for supposedly “giving the internet away” to the United Nations. And the reason that Obama is giving away the internet? Because, according to Fischer, “he hates America”.

Like his opposition to net neutrality, Fischer’s statements are based in his lack of knowledge about how the internet works. And it’s just a short hop from there to accuse Obama of selling out the nation.

So let’s take a look at the facts and clear up some of the “false facts”.

What is the internet?

The Internet is a decentralized network of computer connections owned, operated, and maintained by countless businesses worldwide, transcending borders and connecting people all over the globe.

Does the US Government own the internet?

No. Because the internet is a decentralized network of global computer connections, the US government does not own the internet.

Who owns the internet?

No-one. The internet is a decentralized network of global computer connections. Those connections are created by technology systems created and managed by thousands of companies worldwide. Every person who connects to the that network is connecting to a global network of connection points.

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What is the US Government’s role in the internet?

The US government, via a partnership with The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), has managed the Domain Name System for registering URLs since 1998.

Prior to that time, domain names were managed by Jon Postel, a Computer Science researcher at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI). The ISI was funded by the US Department of Defense.

ICANN is a non-profit entity that was incorporated in California on September 30, 1998, with entrepreneur and philanthropist Esther Dyson as founding chairwoman.

ICANN had a contract with the NTIA to manage the Domain Name System. That contract is due to expire at the end of September, 2016, with a temporary contract in place until 2019 while the DNS system is transitioned under ICANN.


What is the Domain Name System?

The Domain Name System, or DNS, functions as a global address book of the Internet. Simply put, the DNS enables users to visit websites with memorable names instead of obscure numeric addresses.

ignorance-globe-3All the computer connections that make up the internet are actually identified by numbers called IP addresses. An IP (Internet Protocol) address is a unique string of numbers separated by periods that identifies each computer within a network, in this case the network of computer connections that make up the internet.

The DNS system substitutes names for those numbers.

It’s much easier to identify and remember and a website name (aka a “domain”) like .com and .org instead of a long complex string of numbers. Without it, visiting a website like whitehouse.gov would instead require us to type a long number into our browsers.

What body manages the DNS?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) manages the DNS system today.

ICANN is a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation with participants from all over the world dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. It promotes competition and develops policy on the Internet’s unique identifiers. Through its coordination role of the Internet’s naming system, it has an important impact on the expansion and evolution of the Internet.

At the core of ICANN’s responsibilities are the global coordination of the domain name system root and Internet protocol addressing, conducted through the IANA Department. ICANN performs these functions in the public interest, through a contract with the U.S. government’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

What does ICANN do exactly?

ICANN performs the actual technical maintenance work of the central Internet address pools and DNS Root registries pursuant to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function contract.

What is the IANA?

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is a department of ICANN, a nonprofit private American corporation that oversees global IP address allocation, autonomous system number allocation, root zone management in the Domain Name System (DNS), media types, and other Internet Protocol-related symbols and numbers.

Why is the US Government transitioning away from managing the DNS?

The U.S. government has no global statutory authority over ICANN or the DNS. As the Internet grew rapidly and expanded globally, the U.S. government recognized the Internet’s potential. In the late 1990’s, the US government determined that the private sector would be far more suited to manage the tremendous growth and technical evolution of the DNS, rather than the government.

Is ICANN the only body that registers domain names?

No. The internet and the registry system of domains is not owned by the US. All countries have computer connections that connect to the global network that is the internet. All countries can create their own domains. For example, in China, domain names end in .cn. Domain name administration in mainland China is managed through a branch of the Ministry of Industry and Information. The registry is maintained by China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).

In Russia, domain names end in .ru, the country code domain for the Russian Federation. It is operated by the Russian registry RU Center and can be registered by anyone for a minimum one-year period.

What is the US government doing to transition the DNS management?
In 1998, the White House tasked the U.S. Department of Commerce to initiate a process to establish a new organization to perform the IANA functions.

ignorance-globe-2In partnership with the Commerce Department, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and ICANN are carrying out a plan that has been almost 20 years in the making to privatize and transition management of the DNS system to a global, multi-national, multi-sector body.

And so, on October 1, 2016, the US government begins transitioning its supervision of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

What will the impact be of this transition?

In recent years, Russia, China and other nations that censor content within their borders and limit free expression have voiced support for putting the United Nations in charge of managing the DNS. They argue that if the U.S. is so involved, every government should be involved.

However, shifting control to the UN, or any intergovernmental body for that matter, would leave the internet vulnerable to government forces and ideologies, including geopolitical disputes. It would also stifle innovation, create bureaucratic delays and impede the internet’s expansion to billions of people worldwide.

Transitioning oversight to an international body is a critical step in ensuring that the Domain Name System, the primary function of ICANN, can evolve and yet still be held accountable.

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Who opposes the transition and why?

Some folks in Congress such as Senator Ted Cruz oppose the plan. In August 2015, Cruz told Wall Street Journal opinion writer L. Gordon Crovitz, “It’s a key issue that the U.S. not give away control of the Internet to a body under the influence and possible control of foreign governments.”   And at the Republican National Convention in July, 2016, he said “The internet? Keep it free from taxes, free from regulation. And don’t give it away to Russia and China.”

The puzzling thing about Cruz and others’ opposition is that their concerns are exactly in line with why it is so important to move forward with the plan – ensuring less government control and protecting internet innovation and freedoms. In fact, Russia, China, Cuba and some other authoritarian countries objected to the plan to transition oversight of ICANN to an international body for precisely that reason, because those governments wanted to exert more control, not less.

What is the plan to “manage the internet”?

The plan is for ICANN’s functions to be managed by a multi-national consortium of internet stakeholders representing private industry, governments, civil society, academia and the online community.

ICANN’s functions are technical and administrative, making sure that the URLs work as internet users expect them to. The IANA acts as a maintenance of domain names or “registries”, sometimes known as “the phonebook for the internet”.

Under the plan, ICANN will continue its work of managing the DNS. Oversight of the work will be done by an international, private and public body of stakeholders, rather than just the U.S.

ICANN performs a clerical and technical function of keeping a global resource, the IANA registry, up to date. Nothing about transitioning ICANN’s work “gives away the internet”.

Who will “manage the internet”?

ICANN will continue to manage and coordinate the DNS and registry system, now under expanded oversight and cooperation by the international consortium of stakeholders.

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve had some facts to digest, let’s get back to our friend, Bryan Fischer, the talk-radio-show host.

On his show, he made some wild accusations against President Obama, furious that “President Obama is going to turn over the internet to the United Nations.” He clearly doesn’t understand anything about how the internet or ICANN functions.

“He’s going to let the United Nations run the entire, worldwide internet,” Fischer stated. “There is no president who would do that if he truly loved his country and cared about its security. No president would do that. You put this in charge of the UN, there is nothing on the internet that’s safe! There’s nothing on the internet that they cannot make a way for somebody to get at. There will be no possibility of any kind of genuine cyber-security any longer if the UN is in charge of the internet … This may sound like an exaggeration, but the only reason you would do this is to sell out your own country.”

Given what you’ve read in this article, let’s take a look at Fischer’s assertions again:

  • President Obama is “handing the internet to the UN”.
    • The US is not putting the UN in charge of the internet. In fact, this is exactly the opposite of what the US is doing. By expanding the oversight of ICANN to an international, non-governmental body, the US is helping the internet to remain free and open, encouraging innovation and access.
  • “There’s no possibility of any kind of genuine cyber-security any longer if the UN is in charge of the internet.”
    • The UN will not be in charge of the internet (see above).
    • Cyber-security is a completely separate, complex and vast set of issues. It certainly is not something that ICANN has as its mission (managing a phone-book is not the same as managing a security system). Additionally, the US could not control or manage cyber-security issues independently of other countries’ co-operation.
  • President Obama is “selling out”.
    • First of all, the plan to transition and expand oversight of ICANN’s functions to an international body was begun almost 20 years ago. This idea didn’t originate with Obama.
    • Second, “selling out” is an expression meaning to compromise integrity, morality or principles in exchange for personal gain. Nowhere in this plan does Obama receive any personal benefit. What is gained, however, is our nation’s ability to ensure innovation and protect freedom and access as the internet expands globally and reaches billions more users worldwide.

Finally, you now know that Fischer’s statements are not only false, but patently misinformed, and devoid of the facts.

The point is that uninformed opinion combined with literal translation leads to and perpetuates ignorance. When false statements are made on talk-shows like Fischer’s, that misinformation becomes a dangerous weapon, breeding fear and, yes, more ignorance.

 


If you’re interested in reading more on the U.S. Government’s position on this topic, here’s a great opinion piece from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.