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Sen. Cruz: Congress Has 22 Days to Protect Freedom on the Internet

Calls on Congress to act affirmatively to stop Obama's Internet giveaway

September 8, 2016

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today spoke on the Senate floor, outlining the possible dangers of the Obama administration’s radical proposal to relinquish oversight of the Internet to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), scheduled to take place on October 1, and urging Congress to stop the giveaway before it’s too late. Specifically, Sen. Cruz detailed the risks of increasing the influence of countries like Russia, China, and Iran over the Internet, such as censorship of speech and uncertainty of the .gov and .mil top-level domains. Sen. Cruz also took time during his speech to memorialize conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly, who passed away on Monday.

“In 22 short days, if Congress fails to act, the Obama administration intends to give away control of the Internet to an international body akin to the United Nations,” Sen. Cruz said. “I rise today to discuss the significant, irreparable damage this proposed Internet giveaway could wreak not only on our nation, but on free speech across the world.” 

Cruz continued, “If the Obama administration hands control of the Internet over to this international organization, it’s not like the next president can magically snap his or her fingers and bring it back. Unscrambling those eggs may well not be possible. I suspect that’s why the Obama administration is trying to jam it through on September 30, to get it done in a way that the next president can’t undo it, that the Internet is lost for generations to come. To stop the giveaway of our Internet freedom, Congress should act by continuing and by strengthening the appropriations rider in the continuing resolution that we will be considering this month, by preventing the Obama administration from giving away control of the Internet. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together, to stand together and ensure that we protect freedom of the Internet for generations to come.”

Watch Sen. Cruz’s speech on Internet freedom here. Watch Sen. Cruz’s remarks in honor of Phyllis Schlafly here. Sen. Cruz’s speech can be read in its entirety below: 

“Mr. President, today I rise to honor the first lady of the conservative movement. On Sunday, surrounded by her loving family, Phyllis Schlafly passed away. 

“Few will ever match Phyllis’ conviction and tenacity. She stood, literally, on the front lines fighting against forces that threatened to upend families and sought to undermine the Judeo-Christian values upon which our great nation was founded. 

“Without question, Phyllis Schlafly loved America. Her contributions to our country went far beyond her work exposing the illogic of liberalism: Phyllis led the charge to make the Republican Party pro-life and defended the sanctity of marriage. She was a passionate defender of U.S. sovereignty and championed Reagan’s policy of ‘peace through strength’ during a crucial time in American history. 

“And the women and men of Eagle Forum, which she founded, are incredible patriots and grassroots activists, who today, along with all of us, are mourning Phyllis’ passing.

“Our nation continues to face many dangers, both foreign and domestic, and we need more individuals like Mrs. Schlafly, who are not afraid to stand up and fight for the freedoms so richly bestowed upon us all by our Creator.  May she rest in peace. 

“Mr. President, today, our country faces a threat to the Internet as we know it.  In 22 short days, if Congress fails to act, the Obama administration intends to give away control of the Internet to an international body akin to the United Nations.

“I rise today to discuss the significant, irreparable damage this proposed Internet giveaway could wreak not only on our nation, but on free speech across the world. And so today, I urge my colleagues on both sides of aisle to join me along with Sens. Lankford and Lee, along Mr. President with you and your leadership, along with Congressman Sean Duffy, to stop the Obama administration from relinquishing U.S. control of the Internet. 

“Many have stood with us in both chambers, and we are very grateful for Sens. Thune, Grassley, Burr, Cotton, Sasse, Moran, Sessions, and Rubio, along with a number of our colleagues in the House, including Congressmen Duffy, Barton, Blackburn, Brady, Burgess, Culberson, and Flores.

“And I urge even more of my colleagues to come together and stand united to stop the Obama administration’s Internet giveaway.

“The Internet has been one of those transformational inventions that has changed how we communicate, how we do commerce, how we live our lives. For many, especially young people, it’s hard to even imagine life before the Internet. But look at what the Internet has done – it has created an oasis of freedom for billions across the world.

“One of the great problems with someone trying to start a business is what is known as a ‘barrier to entry.’  What the Internet has done is dramatically reduce the barriers to entry for anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur.

“If you’re a man or woman, or even a boy or girl somewhere across the country, or across the world, and you have an idea – a service you want to sell or a good you want to make – you can put up a website and instantly you’ve got an international marketing capacity. You have a portal to communicate with people, and anyone can go online and order whatever your good and service is, and between that and FedEx or UPS you can ship it anywhere in the world.

“That is an extraordinary and transformational ability. That freedom – that you don’t have to go and get anyone’s approval, you don’t have to go a Board of Business Authorization if you want to create a new business– the Internet is democratizing in that effect. 

“The Internet empowers those with nothing but hope and a dream to be able to achieve those ambitions.

“But right now, the Obama administration’s proposal to give away control of the Internet poses a significant threat to our freedom, and it’s one that many Americans don’t know about. It is scheduled to go into effect on September 30, 2016. 22 days away.  Just over three weeks.

“Now what does it mean to give away control of the Internet?

“From the very first days of the Internet, when it was developed here in America, the United States Government has maintained its core functions to ensure equal access for everyone with no censorship. The government role isn’t to monitor what we say, it isn’t to censor what we say, it is simply to ensure that it works – that when you type in a website, it actually goes to that website and not somewhere else. And yet, that can change. 

“The Obama administration is instead pushing through a radical proposal to take control of Internet domain names and instead give it to an international organization, ICANN, that includes 162 foreign countries. And if that proposal goes through, it will empower countries like Russia, like China, like Iran to be able to censor speech on the Internet, your speech. Countries like China, Russia, and Iran are not our friends, and their interests are not our interests.

“Imagine searching the Internet and instead of seeing your standard search results, you see a disclaimer that the information you were searching for is censored. It is not consistent with the standards of this new international body, it does not meet their approval. Now, if you’re in China, that situation could well come with the threat of arrest for daring to merely search for such a thing that didn’t meet the approval of the censors. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen in America, but giving control of the Internet to an international body with Russia, and China, and Iran having power over it could lead to precisely that threat, and it’s going to take Congress acting affirmatively to stop it.

“You look at the influence of foreign governments within ICANN, it should give us greater and greater concern.

“For example, ICANN’s former CEO Fadi Chehadé left ICANN to lead a high-level working group for China’s World Internet Conference. Mr. Chehadé’s decision to use his insider knowledge of how ICANN operates to help the Chinese government and their conference is more than a little concerning.

“This is the person who was leading ICANN, the body that we are being told to trust with our freedoms. Yet this man has since gone to work for the Chinese Internet Conference, which has rightly been criticized for banning members of the press such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. 

“But you know what, even reporters you may fundamentally disagree with have a right to report and say what they believe. And yet, the World Internet Conference banned them – said ‘we do not want these reporters here, presumably, because we don’t like what they’re saying.’ – which led Reporters Without Borders to demand an international boycott of the conference, calling China the ‘enemy of the Internet.’ Mr. President, if China is the enemy of the Internet, do we want the enemy of the Internet having power over what you’re allowed to say, what you’re allowed to search for, what you’re allowed to read online? Do we want China, and Russia, and Iran having the power to determine if a website is unacceptable, it’s taken down?

“I would note that once this transition happens, there are serious indications that ICANN intends to seek to flee U.S. jurisdiction and flee U.S. laws. Indeed, earlier this summer, ICANN held a global conference in Finland in which jurisdiction shopping was part of their agenda, trying to figure out what jurisdiction should we base control of the Internet out of across the globe. 

“A representative of Iran is already on record stating, ‘[w]e should not take it [for] granted that jurisdiction is already agreed to be totally based on U.S. law.’ Our enemies are not hiding what they intend to do. 

“Not only is there a concern of censorship and foreign jurisdictions stripping U.S. law from authority over the Internet, there are also real national security concerns. Congress has received no assurances from the Obama administration that the U.S. Government will continue to have exclusive ownership and control of the .gov and .mil top-level domains in perpetuity, which are vital to our national security. The Department of Defense, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines all use the .mil top-level domain. The White House, the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security all use .gov.

“The only assurance ICANN has provided the federal government regarding .gov and .mil is that ICANN will notify the government in the future if it decides to give .gov and .mil to another entity. So if someone is going to the IRS, or what you think is the IRS, and you’re comforted that it’s on a .gov website so that you know it must be safe, you may instead find yourself victims of a foreign scam, a phishing scam, some other means of fraud with no basic protections.

“Congress should not sit by and let this happen. Congress must not sit by and let censorship happen.   

“Now, some defenders of the Obama proposal say ‘this is not about censorship. It’s about handing control to a multi-stakeholder unit. They would never dream of censoring content on the Internet.’

“Well recently, leading technology companies in the United States – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Microsoft – reached an agreement with the European Union, to remove ‘hate speech’ from their online platforms within 24 hours. Giant U.S. corporations signing on with the government to say, ‘we are going to help you censor speech that is deemed unacceptable.’ And by the way, the definition of ‘hate speech’ we have seen can be very, very malleable depending upon what norms are trying to be enforced. For example, the Human Rights Campaign, which is active within ICANN, has featured the Family Research Institute, the National Organization for Marriage, the American Center for Law and Justice, and other conservative and religious groups in a report entitled ‘The Export of Hate.’ We are facing the real possibility of an international body having the ability to censor political speech if it is contrary to the norms they intend to enforce. In their view, it is hate to express a view different from whatever the prevailing orthodoxy is being enforced.

“Now it is one thing dealing with government organizations that try to stifle speech, that is profoundly inconsistent with who we are as Americans. But to hand over control of the Internet, to potentially muzzle everybody on the Internet, is to ensure that what you say is only consistent with whatever is approved by the powers that be, and that ought to frighten everybody. And there is something we can do about it. 

“Along with Congressman Sean Duffy in the House, I have introduced the Protecting Internet Freedom Act, which if enacted will stop the Internet transition, and it will also ensure that the United States Government keeps exclusive ownership and control of the .gov and .mil top-level domains. Our legislation is supported by 17 key groups across the country, advocacy groups, consumer groups, and it also has the formal endorsement of the House Freedom Caucus. 

“This should be an issue that brings us all together – Republicans, Democrats, all of us coming together. There are partisan issues that divide us, there always will be. We can have Republicans and Democrats argue till the cows come home about the top marginal tax rate, and that is a good and healthy debate to have. But when it comes to the Internet, when it comes to basic principles of freedom, letting people speak online without being censored, that ought to bring every one of us together.

“As members of the legislative branch, Congress should stand united to rein in this president, to protect the constitutional authority expressly given to Congress to control disposition of property of the United States. To put the matter very simply: the Obama administration does not have the authorization of Congress, and yet, they are endeavoring to give away this valuable, critical property, to give it away with no authorization in law. I would note the government employees doing so are doing so in violation of federal law, and they risk personal liability in going forward contrary to law. That ought to trouble all of us.   

“Who in their right mind looks at the Internet and says ‘You know what we need? We need Russia to have more control over this.’ What is the thought process behind this? And what does it gain? What does it gain? When you look at the Internet, the Internet is working. The Internet works just fine. It lets us speak. It lets us operate. It lets us engage in commerce. Why would this administration risk giving it up? Mr. President, when you and I were children, Jimmy Carter gave away the Panama Canal; he gave it away even though Americans had built it. Americans had died building the Panama Canal; he nonetheless gave it away. For some reason, President Obama seems to want to embody the spirit of Jimmy Carter and wants to give away the Internet. We shouldn’t let him. 

“The United States Constitution prohibits transferring government property to anyone without the authorization of Congress. Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution explicitly requires congressional authorization. And Congress has for several years now prohibited the administration from using any funds to ‘relinquish’ control of the Internet. And yet, in typical lawless fashion, the Department of Commerce has been racing to prepare to relinquish control by September 30, directly violating federal law and using taxpayer funding to do so. The administration’s continued contempt for the law and the Constitution, while sadly not surprising anymore, is particularly dangerous here, as it is contempt in service of undermining Internet freedom for billions of people across the world. 

“With the federal government maintaining supervision over ICANN and domain names, it means that the First Amendment is protected. Other countries don’t have First Amendment protections, other countries don’t protect free speech the way America does. And America does that for the world, protecting free speech on the Internet by preventing the government from engaging in censorship. We shouldn’t muck it up.

“And if the Obama administration jams this through, hands control of the Internet over to this international organization, this United Nations-like, unaccountable group, and they take it overseas – it’s not like the next president can magically snap his or her fingers and bring it back. Unscrambling those eggs may well not be possible. I suspect that’s why the Obama administration is trying to jam it through on September 30, to get it done in a way that the next president can’t undo it, that the Internet is lost for generations to come. To stop the giveaway of our Internet freedom, Congress should act by continuing and by strengthening the appropriations rider in the continuing resolution that we will be considering this month, by preventing the Obama administration from giving away control of the Internet.

“Next week, I will be chairing a hearing on the harms to our freedom that come from the Obama administration’s proposal to give away the Internet.

“As President Ronald Reagan stated, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States when men were free.’

“I don’t want you and I to have to tell our children and our children’s children what it was once like when the Internet wasn’t censored, wasn’t in the control of the foreign governments.

“And I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together, to stand together and ensure that we protect freedom of the Internet for generations to come. It is not too late to act, and I am encouraged by the leadership of members of both houses of Congress to stand up and protect freedom of the Internet going forward.” 

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