Reality Check: Obama Administration has Handed Over the Internet to a Private Corporation

Something absolutely incredible happened over the weekend that very few people are even aware of: the United States handing over authority over internet domains to an international body.

Why would President Obama do that, and why could that be a huge problem in the future?

This is a Reality Check you won’t see anywhere else.

Saturday night, a tiny branch of the U.S. Commerce Department handed over control of the Internet’s “address book” — the highest level of the Domain Naming System, or DNS — to an international company called ICANN.

Before we talk about why that could be a problem, let’s talk about what that actually means.

The Domain Naming System, DNS, is one of the internet’s most important components because it pairs the easy-to-remember web addresses — like cbs46.com, — with their relevant servers.

Without DNS, you’d only be able to access websites by typing in its IP address, a series of numbers such as “194.66.82.10”. It would be a pain. Because the internet has largely come from the United States, the U.S. has always had ultimate say over how the DNS is controlled.

That is not the case anymore, as the Obama administration gave up that power to ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — a non-profit organization.

So what does that actually mean?

Well, it actually could mean a lot. In fact, four Republican senators including Sen. Ted Cruz filed a suit in federal court trying to block the Obama administration from handing over that control, writing in part: “The proposal will significantly increase the power of foreign governments over the Internet.”

But for their part, the Obama administration is defending the move. Larry Strickling, the administrator of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, defends the move, saying:

“There’s no question that the U.S. role in this has served as a talking point for countries like Russia and other authoritarian regimes. When they are trying to convince countries in the developing world to join them and some of their policies, they use this as an argument. So yes, we’re taking that argument away, so we hope that developing countries would approach these issues with a different mindset as a result.”

So what you need to know is that what has actually happened here is the privatization of internet domain access. And that, any way you slice it, is of concern.

The truth here: the internet has created an entire new world of information flow, a digital economy, social networking; it has, on so many levels, revolutionized humanity.

But that has only been true because the internet is free. And as long as it has been under the authority of the U.S. government, the internet must be subject to First Amendment and Constitutional protections.

As of today, that is no longer the case.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that on Twitter.