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Why would Obama risk Internet freedom? Time for Congress to step up

Our “pen and phone” president is at it again. 

The Department of Commerce, in a Friday night release, signaled that it was going to give up American control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which assigns and maintains domain names and web addresses for the Internet.

Ceding control of this key function creates a power vacuum, one that authoritarian regimes (and the U.N., but I’m being redundant) will be only too happy to fill. Here’s what Gordon Grovitz had to say about the issue in The Wall Street Journal:

In the past few years, Russia and China have used a U.N. agency called the International Telecommunication Union to challenge the open Internet. They have lobbied for the ITU to replace Washington as the Icann overseer. They want the ITU to outlaw anonymity on the Web (to make identifying dissidents easier) and to add a fee charged to providers when people gain access to the Web "internationally" – in effect, a tax on U.S.-based sites such as Google and Facebook. The unspoken aim is to discourage global Internet companies from giving everyone equal access.

Why would President Obama risk Internet freedom? Why would he place key functions of the world’s greatest engine of free speech and economic development in the hands of the U.N. or other authoritarian entities?

Is ending American control over key Internet functions President Obama’s way of saying “I’m sorry” for the NSA?

It appears he may be placing his personal interests over the American people.

Remember 2008? In those days, then-candidate Obama may have been even more popular abroad than he was in the United States (and he was on the verge of a convincing presidential victory). He went to Berlin and received a hero’s welcome before a vast crowd – a crowd larger than any of his American campaign appearances.

Yet in 2013, when he returned to Berlin – even before Europeans knew the full extent of Edward Snowden’s allegations of American Internet spying – the crowds had dwindled to five or six thousand. The thrill was gone.

Remember 2009? Less than a year into the first term of his presidency, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. For what, exactly? Just being himself, mainly.

How does the prize committee feel now? Since the award, its Nobel Laureate stepped up the drone war in Pakistan, kept open Gitmo, launched a surge of troops into Afghanistan, bombed Libya and tried to drag America into war in Syria.

One gets the distinct feeling that surrendering the Internet is the action of a man paying his penance to an angry international community, a man trying to restore his reputation as a globalist.

Is ending American control over key Internet functions President Obama’s way of saying “I’m sorry” for the NSA?

But President Obama’s international reputation is much less important to the American people than our online liberty. For us, the Internet is free. Why would we risk our freedom? Why would we risk censorship and international taxation?

It’s time for Congress to step up.

At a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee Wednesday, several lawmakers expressed grave concern about such a change.

Already, the House is working on two bills – one from Reps. John Shimkus, Todd Rokita and Marsha Blackburn that would prohibit the Department of Commerce from turning over domain name system oversight without a GAO report, and another from Rep. Mike Kelly that would prohibit such an action without congressional approval.

Both bills represent a vast improvement over the status quo, where the president is using his executive authority to appease the international community at the expense of American freedom.

Moreover, both bills have a chance of becoming law. There's growing bipartisan support for these measures and it's our hope there will be enough support to override a presidential veto.

Former President Bill Clinton has spoken openly and forcefully against the U.S. ceding control of ICANN; the Washington Post has editorialized about the risks; and the founder of Wikipedia – one of the world’s most popular websites – has expressed his own concerns.

In other words, this is not a partisan issue. It’s an issue that should concern all Americans, and it’s an issue that must not be settled by the president’s “pen and phone.”

It’s time for our system of checks and balances to work. It’s time for Congress to protect American liberty.

Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He is author of the New York Times Bestseller, "Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can't Ignore." He hosts "Jay Sekulow Live" -- a daily radio show which is broadcast on more than 850 stations nationwide as well as Sirius/XM satellite radio. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.