Rayburn House Office Building 2141
The Honorable Bob Goodlatte
Chairman Goodlatte: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The title of today’s hearing vastly understates its importance. All hyperbole aside, this hearing is about nothing less than the future of the Internet and, significantly, who has the right, the ability and the authority to determine it.
Should it be decided by a few people in Washington, Beijing, Moscow, Sao Paolo or even Silicon Valley or should it be determined by those who use and stand to benefit from it?
In determining the United States' role, should we have a process where a few officials in the Administration make decisions in a bubble, without consulting with or seeking meaningful input from the American people and their elected representatives or should we have an open, transparent and accountable process before decisions are made that impact all our futures?
To be clear, the process and the manner in which the Obama Administration and specifically the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) arrived at and announced their decision to “transition” oversight over the critical Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function in as early as 18 months, has not been fully transparent.
For example, NTIA announced its decision late on a Friday afternoon as Americans were beginning their weekends and Members were returning to their districts.
NTIA implied that the House and Senate passage of resolutions in 2012 in support of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance somehow provided an advance endorsement, but in truth those resolutions nowhere mention the IANA contract.
Furthermore, to assert that in the late 1990’s, the Department of Commerce stated its intent to phase out its oversight role and thus no one has a right now to question why the Obama Administration has decided to do this is sophistry. Indeed, it’s an attempt to shut down discussion.
As a result, an enormous number of questions have been raised that the American people and this Subcommittee deserve to have answered publicly in a responsible, professional, honest and forthright manner.
There are good reasons why the United States has maintained oversight over the IANA function contract. Indeed, in 2005, the House passed a resolution that explicitly stated that it is the sense of Congress that “the Secretary of Commerce should maintain oversight of ICANN so that ICANN can continue to manage the day-to-day operation of the Internet’s domain name and addressing system well, remain responsive to all Internet stakeholders world-wide, and otherwise fulfill its core technical mission.”
The Obama Administration should bear the burden of proof for both why it wants to make this significant public policy change and whether it is in the best interests of U.S. citizens and Internet users around the globe.
One of the reasons given by many for relinquishing this contract is to improve the U.S.'s image internationally. As a result of the public revelation of certain U.S. intelligence gathering practices, it is true that U.S.-based companies are under enormous pressure to place operations overseas in order to do business there and are facing increased competition from their foreign competitors.
This is because the President and his team have failed to effectively engage and inspire confidence among those countries and citizens who traditionally viewed Americans as allies. We must address this concern, but the most direct way to do so is by reforming our nation's surveillance laws to better protect civil liberties.
While I see both sides of the proposal to ultimately transfer the IANA function to the private sector, it is clear that the U.S. has served as a critical and responsible backstop against censorship and as a promoter of openness and free speech on the Internet. The reality is that once we surrender our unique position, it will be impossible to take it back if something goes awry. This is an important point that needs to be seriously discussed as we determine our future role.
All this leads back to today's hearing. With all due respect to our Administration witness, many Americans are past the point of being satisfied with vague assurances when hard answers, evidence and sober judgment are needed. I look forward to a robust discussion today about this important issue.