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Who’s Problem Is it Anyway?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St Olaf chapter.

84.2% of the United States population are Internet users-over 266 million people.  Children are introduced to electronics and the Internet at incredibly early ages with online games and websites geared towards children.  People use the Internet to connect with friends, find a date, use a calendar, plan a vacation.  Americans spend hours online, and without much thought or worry at all.  However, with the immense amount of citizens utilizing the Internet each day, regulation and control is a necessity for the purpose of security and safety. But, who should be given the authority and key to such a powerful part of American society?

47 years ago, it was decided that the government should have the power to control and oversee several Internet functions.  Through this decision, the federal government had the capability to oversee and exercise control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). However, as of October 1st, 2016, the government has given up this vast power. Instead, citizens will be entrusting their Internet lives in the hands of ICANN alone.  In other words, everything that happens behind a lifeless computer screen can and will be monitored by a now truly independent non-profit organization based in California.  

The decision has received mixed reviews.  Some politicians, such as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and conservative Senator Ted Cruz, have criticized and expressed concern about the idea. In a recent statement, Ted Cruz said, “President Obama intends to give increased control of the Internet to authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, and Iran.  Like Jimmy Carter gave away the Panama Canal, Obama is giving away the Internet.” In a time of cyberwarfare, a respectable amount of politicians and citizens worry that the government must use federal power to monitor the Internet for possible terrorism and online warfare.  By entrusting the government with Internet control, the agony of security is eliminated ever-so slightly, which, for many citizens is reasoning alone to give Internet control back to the federal government.

If the prospect of lowering security is not a problem, is ignoring and impeding on our First Amendment rights problematic? By giving internet control over to ICANN, the topic of the First Amendment and whether or not this decision compromises it arises.  The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Obviously, the idea of Internet control only overlaps with nine words in the entire Amendment- “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”  ICANN is controlled by a small, powerful board of influential people.  By giving Internet control to ICANN, the government is agreeing to the terms that they will have the ability to protect their citizens. But is that possible without saying goodbye to First Amendment rights? Would the Internet be a free space anymore?

The truth of the matter is that, like most decisions regarding the federal government, a correct answer does not exist.  With ICANN in charge, security and First Amendment rights are compromised.  However, with the government in charge, are we beginning to stray too far away from the federalist/separation of powers ideals that the Founding Fathers had hoped for? The Internet is a powerful and influential source.  While useful, it carries dangers as well.  In the midst of cyberwarfare so intense that the first presidential debate asked Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump how they would stop it, the decision to give control to ICANN is a risky one. But this problem will not disappear overnight.