Commerce chief blames 'misinformation' for internet domain fight

Commerce chief blames 'misinformation' for internet domain fight
© Getty

Commerce Secretary Penny PritzkerPenny Sue PritzkerThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders steamrolls to South Carolina primary, Super Tuesday Biden's new campaign ad features Obama speech praising him Obama Commerce secretary backs Biden's 2020 bid MORE said critics of the U.S. government's plan to give up oversight of some technical functions of the internet are engaging in "politics and misinformation."

During an interview with The Hill, Pritzker downplayed the planned handoff of the United States' role in the internet domain name system. She described the U.S.'s current responsibility as "largely symbolic" and "clerical."

ADVERTISEMENT

"I think there is a lot of politics and misinformation at play," she said. "That is why I wanted to take you through the story, because it is important that we get the facts correct."

Delaying the transition that is planned for later this year would harm the trust other countries have put in the United States, Pritzker said. 

"If we don't take action now, the trust will be undermined," she said.

The secretary is at a conference in Mexico where she delivered remarks about the importance of the open internet and released a report about the administration's actions.  

The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced in 2014 that it planned to give up its oversight of internet functions that help pair up numerical IP addresses with their familiar web addresses so users can navigate online without typing in long strings of numbers. 

The Commerce Department recently approved a plan for the transition, and officials have hoped to finish it by the end of the fiscal year. 

Oversight would transition to a global group of stakeholders, organized by nonprofit group the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). 

But a number of Republicans in Congress have long expressed concerns with the proposal. Despite assurances from the administration to the contrary, they warn that the transition could allow authoritarian countries to gain more power over the internet.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised The Senate confirmation process is broken — Senate Democrats can fix it Australian politician on Cruz, vaccines: 'We don't need your lectures, thanks mate' MORE (R-Texas) has pushed legislation that would prevent the transition unless Congress votes to approve it. Congressional appropriators have also blocked funding to finish the transition. 

Cruz has said his bill is "our last chance to save internet freedom."

The Obama administration strongly disputes that. It says the transition is necessary because other countries — specifically China and Russia — have cited the U.S.'s outsize role as evidence that oversight should be given over to the United Nations or another body of nations.

But Pritzker said handing oversight over to an international government body would leave the internet domain system open to political disputes and bureaucratic delays. 

"They [China and Russia] are using the fact that we have this role as an opportunity to interfere with the core working of the internet, and they are questioning why one government has this unique role," she said.