Commerce secretary: US won't allow 'Internet to be co-opted'

Commerce Secretary Penny PritzkerPenny PritzkerLaunching the next generation of weather satellites Five takeaways from the money race Armani, Batali among guests at White House state dinner MORE insisted Monday that the United States would prevent the Internet from being "co-opted" by any government or person. 

She said the United States will remain a champion of an open Internet, as the Commerce Department plans to move away from its oversight role of the system that governs Internet addresses. 

"Let me be clear about this: The United States will not allow the global Internet to be co-opted by any person, entity or nation seeking to substitute their parochial world view for the collective wisdom of the community," she said at a meeting in California.  

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She added: "We know that those interested in government control tend to be countries that censor content and stifle the free-flow of information."

The Commerce Department in March announced it would be handing off its oversight and management of the Internet domain name system, which allows Internet users to easily search for websites using unique addresses. 

The Commerce Department has historically contracted the role out to a California-based nonprofit group, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is hosting the weeklong conference in Los Angeles. 

The department intends to hand over the reins permanently, and the government has tasked ICANN to oversee a plan to transition away from government oversight. The current contract expires in 2015 but it could be extended by up to four years if more time is needed. 

Some have worried that the Commerce Department's decision would allow other governments, like China or Russia, to assert broader control. 

Pritzker said a "multi-stakeholder" process is the only way to ensure the Internet remains open for economic growth, innovation and free speech. 

"It has enemies, who want to reduce Internet governance to a meeting of governmental technocrats promoting narrow national interests," she said. 

The department has said the process must take multiple stakeholders into account, maintain the open Internet, and ensure security and stability of the domain name system. It has said it would not hand over control to a "government-led" or intergovernmental group. 

Pritzker acknowledged that many took comfort in the U.S. oversight. But going back to the late 1990s, the Commerce Department was committed to eventually transitioning to private sector management. 

“We are strong supporters of an ICANN that is committed to the idea of individual voices coming to consensus decision," she said. "We must all recognize, however, that this is not inevitable and we should not take it all for granted."

—This post was corrected at 2:15 p.m.