Bill Clinton Takes on Obama Over Internet Control‏

Monday, 31 Mar 2014 10:37 AM

By Melanie Batley

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Former President Bill Clinton says the United States must retain its oversight authority over the Internet's names and address system, opposing President Barack Obama's plan to abdicate U.S. control of the system and open it up to the global Internet community.

According to an article by Wall Street Journal columnist Gordon Crovitz, Clinton appeared on a panel discussion at a recent Clinton Global Initiative event to defend U.S. oversight of the domain-name system, which limits the ability of governments to interfere with Internet content and was designed by America to ensure websites could operate free of government regulation.

"A lot of people who have been trying to take this authority away from the U.S. want to do it for the sole purpose of cracking down on Internet freedom and limiting it and having governments protect their backsides instead of empower their people," Clinton said, according to the Journal.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and a participant in the panel session, told Clinton he was worried that if the U.S. gave up domain jurisdiction, there will be a loss of Internet freedom.

"I'm very worried about it," Wales said, adding that people critical of the current system argue that it's unfair that the U.S. has this special power. Wales said he tells critics, "there is the First Amendment in the U.S., and there is a culture of free expression."

Crovitz said there is concern that if countries such as Russia and China, as well as authoritarian regimes, join as "stakeholders" they would not only shift toward Internet censorship in their own countries but could work beyond their borders by deactivating websites they oppose and acting to suppress dissent.

"I just know that a lot of these so-called multi-stakeholders are really governments that want to gag people and restrict access to the Internet," Clinton said. "We have an obligation not to let that happen."

Assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Strickland, however, dismissed America's role in the system as "clerical," according to people at the meeting, and disparaged critics of the Obama plan as people "trying to score political points," Crovitz reported.

Congressional hearings on the Obama plan begin this week, and proposed legislation would retain U.S. control, but it is unclear whether the White House has the ultimate authority to transfer U.S. control without congressional approval.

"The Obama plan to abdicate oversight would permanently undermine the permissionless Internet, built under U.S. leadership to enable websites to operate free of government regulation," Crovitz wrote.

"There should be bipartisan support in Washington for the U.S. to retain its role and protect stakeholders and Web users from repressive regimes," the columnist wrote. "Otherwise it's the beginning of the end for the open Internet."

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