02.04.16

Senators Lankford, Cruz and Lee Press Government Contractor on Internet Censorship

Senators demand answers from ICANN CEO on his participation in the World Internet Conference and implicit support of Chinese speech restrictions

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Lee (R-UT) today challenged federal contractor, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), to not support Chinese Internet censorship. In a letter to ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade, the senators raised serious concerns and requested information regarding Mr. Chehade’s involvement with the World Internet Conference. The conference is organized by the Chinese government, a regime notorious for its censorship of the Internet and criminalization of forms of online speech. Human rights, journalists, and free speech groups have consistently expressed concerns regarding the conference and its perceived mission to promote China's restrictive Internet policies.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), under the Department of Commerce, has contracted with ICANN, a nonprofit organization, to perform Internet functions since 1998. On March 14, 2014, NTIA announced its intention to transition its stewardship role over the Internet to a global, multistakeholder community. The current contract has been extended until September 30, 2016; however, there is a prohibition in place preventing the Administration from using any funds to relinquish control over the Internet during Fiscal Year 2016. Since the time of the 2014 announcement, Senators Cruz, Lankford and Lee have expressed strong opposition to the United States transferring control of the Internet, as once our nation relinquishes its role, there is no guarantee that groups and countries that do not share the free and open vision for the Internet do not take over governance. 

“As you must know, the World Internet Conference is not a beacon of free speech,” Cruz, Lankford, and Lee wrote in the letter. “It has been heavily criticized by members of the press for refusing to allow China-based reporters for the New York Times and Washington Post to cover the conference. Reporters Without Borders demanded an international boycott of the conference, calling China the ‘enemy of the Internet.’  In addition, GreatFire co-founder, Charlie Smith, described foreign guests of the Conference as ‘complicit actors in the Chinese censorship regime and are lending legitimacy to Lu Wei, CAC and their heavy-handed approach to Internet governance. They are, in effect, helping to put all Chinese who stand for their constitutional right to free speech behind bars.’”

The senators continued: “ICANN’s participation in the World Internet Conference is especially concerning because of the Chinese government’s long and established record of restricting free access to the Internet, censoring content, and criminalizing certain forms of online speech. Just recently, Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, released their report ‘Freedom on the Net 2015’ in which China was ranked last in the world for Internet freedom.  Not only has China used the Internet as means of surveillance within its borders, but some believe that Chinese hackers may be responsible for a breach of U.S. Government databases at the Office of Personnel Management, which resulted in the theft of personal information of more the 22 million Americans.”

Read the full Cruz-Lankford-Lee letter here.

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