Voicing concern that plans by the Department of Commerce (DOC) to relinquish oversight of the Internet domain name system could result in an illegal transfer of U.S. government property, Republican leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Monday to assess the constitutionality of plans to transfer governance of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to a multi-stakeholder model.
Since 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been contracted to operate IANA on behalf of the DOC. Responding in part to growing international concerns over the U.S. government’s role in managing the structure of the Internet, assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Strickling asked the National Telecommunications and Information Administration last year to develop a plan for transitioning U.S. government oversight over ICANN’s IANArelated functions to an international group. The new management would (1) support and enhance the multi-stakeholder model of web governance on which the Internet was built, (2) maintain the security and resiliency of the domain name system, (3) satisfy the needs and expectations of global customers and partners, and (4) ensure “the openness of the Internet.” Although ICANN’s most recent contract with the DOC expired on Wednesday, the DOC recently announced that it would renew the ICANN contract for one more year (and perhaps extend it for three) to allow sufficient time for stakeholders to develop an acceptable governance structure.
Although the Dotcom bill passed by the House in June would give Congress 30 days to review and perhaps block the final IANA transition plan, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Senator Ted Cruz (R- TX) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) advised the GAO in a letter that the proposed transfer would also include the “root zone file,” which contains names and records associated with each toplevel domain name. Declaring that the root zone file was established by the Department of Defense as a national IT asset, the lawmakers said “Congress should be made aware of the legal status of the root zone file—or any other potential government property—before it makes any final decisions about whether to transfer the government’s Internet oversight functions to a third party.” Because the Commerce Department’s contract with ICANN “explicitly state[s]that the root zone file is ‘the property of the U.S. government,’” the lawmakers warned the proposed transfer could be unconstitutional, as Congress holds sole authority to transfer U.S. government property. Ranking House Energy and Commerce Committee member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), however, disagreed with his GOP colleagues, as he asserted that the Dotcom Act “represents a bipartisan consensus on this issue and the widely-accepted reading of the Constitution.”