Bill Clinton

Clinton Global Initiative

Policy


Count former President Bill Clinton among those who are skeptical of the new Obama administration plan to give up Internet oversight authority.

Clinton talked in some detail about why the U.S. should retain oversight over Internet domain names and addresses during a panel at a weekend meeting sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative.

Noting that the Edward Snowden revelations of National Security Agency data collections has given “new energy” to the belief internationally that the U.S. should not even be in “nominal control of domain names,” Clinton argued that the U.S. has still done a pretty good job of keeping the Internet open and free.

“A lot of people … have been trying to take this authority from the U.S. for the sole purpose of cracking down on Internet freedom and limiting it and having governments protect their backsides instead of empowering their people,” Clinton said during a panel discussion Friday night.

Clinton launches into a discussion of Internet governance with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales at about the 1:03:45 mark:

Opponents of the Obama administration’s plan — mostly Republicans, so far — are likely to cheer the former president’s remarks, since they too have some concerns about giving up what little control the U.S. has over the Internet. Clinton’s remarks may make it that much harder for the Obama administration to say their plan has widespread support.

A week after the Obama administration revealed plans to give up some Internet oversight, U.S. officials were still arguing that critics misunderstand their plan.

“Some critics have claimed that this move opens the door for certain authoritarian states to somehow seize control of the Internet, blocking free speech and inhibiting a multitude of legitimate activity,” two administration officials wrote Friday in a Bloomberg BNA op-ed. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The Obama administration has proposed giving up its oversight of domain names and Internet addresses managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The non-profit group has managed the use and governance of Internet addresses since 1998. Around that time, U.S. officials  proposed eventually giving up oversight of Internet addresses and domain names. They didn’t actually take concrete steps to do so until now.

Obama administration officials have proposed handing U.S. oversight authority to the “global multistakeholder community” by 2015, when ICANN’s current contract with the U.S. government is set to expire.

Opponents of the plan worry that countries such as China and Russia could gain more control over Internet functions through global bodies such as the United Nations. Obama administration officials said they won’t turn over the keys to a “government-led or an inter-governmental organization,” such as the UN or its telecommunications arm.

Clinton said Saturday that he’s not convinced the multi-stakeholder model is the way to go.

“I understand in theory why we would like to have a multi-stakeholder process. I favor that,” Clinton said. “I just know that a lot of these so-called multi-stakeholders are really governments that want to gag people and restrict access to the internet.”

Wales also expressed some doubts about the plan, telling the audience that as someone active at ICANN he has had concerns when other members argue there needs to be more respect for local cultures on the Internet. That could lead to censorship of content, which is something the U.S. has tried to prevent except in instances where content is illegal (such as child pornography).

“I don’t know the way forward. Internet governance is a complicated issue. But it does concern me,” Wales said.



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