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Sen. Cruz: Obama's Internet Handover Endangers Free Speech Online

Chairs hearing in advance of Congress' September 30 deadline to protect Internet freedom

September 14, 2016

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202-228-7561

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, today convened a hearing titled ‘Protecting Internet Freedom: Implications of Ending U.S. Oversight of the Internet,’ in which he raised numerous concerns regarding the Obama administration’s plan to relinquish American guardianship of the Internet and give it to an international body known as ICANN. Sen. Cruz specifically cited the risk of losing free speech online as a primary concern. 

“Because of the First Amendment to our Constitution, which affords more protection for speech than anywhere else in the world, the United States Government—as long as it has authority to oversee the infrastructure of the Internet—has a duty to ensure that no website is denied Internet access on account of the ideas it espouses,” Sen. Cruz said in his opening statement. “…Once the government is out of the picture, First Amendment protections go away. The First Amendment by its term binds the government, it doesn’t bind private individuals. That means that when ICANN escapes from government authority, ICANN escapes from having to worry about the First Amendment, having to worry about protecting your rights or my rights.”

Sen. Cruz’s opening statement may be viewed in its entirety here and read below:

“The Internet is one of the most revolutionary forces ever unleashed on the world.

“This transformational technology has changed how we learn, how we communicate, how we do commerce, how we live our lives. People even meet and get married through the Internet. 

“And of course, the Internet didn’t invent itself. It wasn’t invented by any politicians. It was invented by the incredible ingenuity of the American people with the financial support of American taxpayers. In the spirit of freedom and generosity that is the essence of our great nation, the American people did not try to keep the Internet just for themselves, but made it available for the benefit of all humanity. 

“Since the Internet’s inception, the United States Government has stood guard over critical Internet functions. In almost any other country, that power could have been used to deny Internet access to websites that were deemed politically undesirable or unpopular or threatening or simply disfavored by the powers that be.

“But not here. Not in the United States. Because of the First Amendment to our Constitution, which affords more protection for speech than anywhere else in the world, the United States Government—as long as it has authority to oversee the infrastructure of the Internet—has a duty to ensure that no website is denied Internet access on account of the ideas it espouses. Under the guardianship of the United States and the First Amendment, the Internet has truly become an oasis of freedom. 

“But that could soon change. In 16 days, without seeking the consent of the American people, without seeking the consent of Congress, the Obama administration has stated that it intends to relinquish the Government’s historic guardianship and give it instead to an international body known as ICANN. 

“Now, what is ICANN?  It is not a democratic body. It is a corporation with a Byzantine governing structure designed to blur lines of accountability that is run by global bureaucrats who are supposedly accountable to the technocrats, to multinational corporations, to governments, including some of the most oppressive regimes in the world like China, Iran, and Russia.

“Sadly, ICANN officials have already begun showing extraordinary affinity for China, the world’s worst abuser of Internet freedom according to Freedom House in 2015. Numerous ICANN gatherings have featured Chinese officials responsible for Chinese government censorship and propaganda.

“ICANN’s recently departed President and CEO, Fadi Chehadé, who shepherded the transition plan through the Obama administration, made China a central focus within ICANN and the future of that organization. Mr. Chehadé is on record saying that, ‘from ICANN’s standpoint, engagement with China is not an option. If we do not engage with China at every level of our community, we, frankly, lose a part of our global legitimacy.’ 

“It is striking that an organization we are being told we should trust with control of the Internet believes that legitimacy depends upon engaging in a regime that is the world’s leading censor on the Internet, silencing speech on the Internet, and that imprisons democracy and human rights advocate and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

“Not surprisingly, Mr. Chehadé left ICANN after the transition plan was approved to lead a high-level working group for, wait for it, China’s World Internet Conference—a conference that was rightly criticized for refusing to let New York Times and Washington Post reporters cover it. As a result, Reporters Without Borders demanded a boycott, calling China an ‘enemy of the Internet.’

“And yet, we are being asked to trust an organization, without having our government have the authority to protect free speech, to trust an organization whose former leader who shepherded this plan has gone to associate himself with and stand with those who are, in the words of Reporters Without Borders, the ‘enemy of the Internet.’

“Once the government is out of the picture, First Amendment protections go away. The First Amendment by its term binds the government, it doesn’t bind private individuals. That means that when ICANN escapes from government authority, ICANN escapes from having to worry about the First Amendment, having to worry about protecting your rights or my rights.

“Imagine an Internet run like one of our large, private universities today, with speech codes and safe zones – an Internet that determines some terms are too scary, microaggressions are too troubling, we will not allow them to be spoken on the Internet. 

“Imagine an Internet run like far too many European countries that punish so-called ‘hate speech’—a notoriously malleable concept that has often been used to suppress views disfavored by those in power.

“Or imagine an Internet run like many Middle Eastern countries that punish what they deem to be blasphemy.

“Or imagine an Internet run like China or Russia that punish and incarcerate those who engage in political dissent.

“Now, some will say none of that parade of horribles will happen, there’s nothing to fear here in handing control of the Internet to this international group of stakeholders, this mini U.N. Well, that’s what this hearing is here to determine. Is there something to fear? 

“And I will point out a question I think a lot of Americans are asking is: why risk it? The Internet right now works. It’s not broken. What is the problem that is trying to be solved here? That’s what this hearing is about as well.” 

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