Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is taking aim at the US plan to transfer key internet governance functions to the international community, joining Sen. Ted Cruz in an attempt to sabotage the historic transition.
The announcement by Trump's campaign injects a relatively obscure technical issue, which has broad support among internet policy and technical experts, into the presidential campaign with 47 days to go before the election.
Cruz and his GOP allies claim that the Oct. 1 transfer of stewardship of the Domain Name System (DNS) to a nonprofit group of global stakeholders would undermine global internet freedom, imperil US national security, and violate federal law.
Many internet policy experts, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, call such fear-based claims blatantly false, but that hasn't stopped Cruz and his allies from using the issue as a political weapon to bludgeon President Obama, who supports the transition.
Now, perhaps sensing a political opportunity—facts notwithstanding—Trump has jumped on the bandwagon, and is parroting many of Cruz's falsehoods, including the Texas senator's assertion that the US is ceding "control" of the internet to the United Nations.
"The US should not turn control of the internet over to the United Nations and the international community," Stephen Miller, National Policy Director for the Trump Campaign, said in a statement. "Hillary Clinton's Democrats are refusing to protect the American people by not protecting the Internet."
This statement is false for several reasons. First of all, the US does not "control" the internet, as Assistant US Commerce Secretary Larry Strickling, who is overseeing the transition, testified before Congress last week. "No one country or entity controls the internet," said Strickling. "The internet is a network of networks that operates with the cooperation of stakeholders around the world."
In fact, the US is merely completing the long-planned transfer of stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, including the DNS, which translates recognizable names like vice.com into numeric internet protocol (IP) addresses, to a group of international stakeholders.
Furthermore, the US is not transferring stewardship of these technical functions to the United Nations, but rather to a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
This group has managed the IANA functions under a contract with the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for more than a decade. The US will allow that contract to lapse at the end of the month, leaving ICANN with full stewardship of the technical functions. The transfer is largely clerical in nature and is unlikely to even be noticed by internet users.
In its statement, the Trump campaign also echoes some of Cruz's more scurrilous fear-mongering claims, including the suggestion that the internet freedom of American consumers will somehow now be threatened.
"Internet freedom is now at risk with the President's intent to cede control to international interests, including countries like China and Russia, which have a long track record of trying to impose online censorship," the Trump campaign said. "Congress needs to act, or internet freedom will be lost for good, since there will be no way to make it great again once it is lost."
Despite Cruz and Trump's ominous warnings, internet policy and technical experts say the transfer will not somehow give countries like China or Russia the power to censor what Americans can see on the internet.
"While we know that there was no love lost between Trump and Cruz during the GOP primaries, their shared colossal and shameful ignorance regarding the realities of the internet certainly makes them two of a kind," said Lauren Weinstein, a veteran internet policy and technology expert who was involved in developing the ARPANET, the precursor to the internet.