The planned transition of the internet's critical technical functions from the US government to a technical body may come under further attack after the Republican Party officially agreed to block it on Monday.
The Republican Platform for 2016 [PDF] was formally approved during a chaotic first day of the party's national convention in Cleveland, and among its 66 pages of policy positions is its stance on "Protecting Internet Freedom."
In contrast to most of the document, the effort to move ultimate control of IANA from the US Department of Commerce (DoC) to non-profit DNS overseer ICANN is covered in largely hyperbolic terms.
"The survival of the internet as we know it is at risk," it begins. "Its gravest peril originates in the White House, the current occupant of which has launched a campaign, both at home and internationally, to subjugate it to agents of government."
It continues on in anti-Obama rhetoric: "He has unilaterally announced America's abandonment of the international internet by surrendering US control of the root zone of web names and addresses. He threw the internet to the wolves, and they – Russia, China, Iran, and others – are ready to devour it."
IANA is a department of ICANN, and it oversees the world's DNS, IP address allocation and networking protocols. It keeps the internet glued together. ICANN runs IANA for the US government under contract. From September 30, control of IANA will transition to fall entirely under ICANN's remit, removing the US government from the equation. The transition plan has been drawn up by the internet community over the course of two years and while it is far from perfect, the plan is backed by all sections of that community, from business to technical bodies to civil society and governments.
Some Republicans in Congress have however been opposed to the move, painting the long-planned transition as handing over control of the internet to foreign governments. Objectively, those fears are unfounded, although some are rightly concerned that ICANN is not sufficiently mature to take on the task.
US Congress would have to pass legislation to prevent the transition from occurring – something that is very unlikely in the current climate – so campaigners have been trying to delay the transition until after the elections in November in the hope that a Republican president is in place and can stop the move, or that Republicans take greater control of Congress and stop it there.
A big part of that move has been to restrict the ability of the DoC to spend any funds on the transition through riders attached to budget bills. However, as things stand, the current restrictions on the DoC will lift at one minute before midnight on the same day that the IANA contract terminates, leaving the government able to approve it one second later.
The Republican Party platform continues: "We salute the Congressional Republicans who have legislatively impeded his plans to turn over the Information Freedom Highway to regulators and tyrants. That fight must continue, for its outcome is in doubt."
It later notes: "We will therefore resist any effort to shift control toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations."
In order to stop the IANA transition at this stage, it will be necessary for an explicit additional freeze on funding to be passed and that is only going to be possible at this stage when Congress returns to work in September, which will be at the absolute height of election fever.
Will that happen? It's hard to know. But with the transition now included in the official platform, and with it represented in the extreme language of the internet's "survival," it is more likely than ever that there will be a last-minute drive to delay or kill off the transition. ®