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Texas versus the feds: A Series Of Tubes edition

Ken Paxton will never run out of reasons to sue the Obama administration.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is jumping into Ted Cruz’s fight to stop what the U.S. senator calls President Barack Obama’s illegal internet “giveaway.”

Paxton and three other attorneys general filed a lawsuit Wednesday night aiming to halt the Obama administration’s plan to cede oversight of the internet domain-name system to an international body. Critics claim the transition, which is set to go into effect within days, could open up the Internet to censorship by countries like China and Russia.

“Trusting authoritarian regimes to ensure the continued freedom of the internet is lunacy,” Paxton said in a statement. “The president does not have the authority to simply give away America’s pioneering role in ensuring that the internet remains a place where free expression can flourish.”

The lawsuit argues that the transfer, among other things, violates the property clause of the U.S. Constitution by letting go of government property without Congress’ approval. It also says the plan will have a negative impact on Americans’ free-speech rights under the First Amendment.

Yeah, this is as dumb as it sounds. Let Ars Technica, which compares the hysteria over this to the Y2K scare, explain:

Overall opposition to the transition appears to be largely political. Many GOP lawmakers (and the Trump campaign) are seemingly arguing that without US oversight, foreign governments or hacking groups from the Internet’s dark corners might take over, control the Internet, and censor it dramatically. What’s more, these critics suggest that without US oversight, the Internet’s infrastructure might crumble entirely. The World Wide Web would be left in a state of anarchy.

That simply isn’t true. Ask other US officials, tech companies, or even Internet architects who helped build the current system, and they’ll say the US government’s oversight role of the Internet is too small for such doomsday scenarios to occur. In fact, these proponents of the transition even say that leaving the root zone under US control could cause more harm than good in the long run.

Regardless of who’s right or wrong in the ICANN changeover debate, one thing nobody can deny is that the United States will continue exercising a powerful hold over a great swath of the Internet—even under the transition. That’s because the companies that oversee the world’s most popular top-level domains (.com, .org, and .net) are based in the United States. These organizations must follow US law and abide by US court orders, and they have to remove websites from the global Internet when ordered to do so.

To date, these court orders are how the US government has seized thousands of websites it has declared to be breaking laws about intellectual property, drugs, gambling, and you name it. Kim Dotcom’s Megaupload file-sharing site fell because of this in 2012. The Bodog online sports wagering site was shuttered by the US that same year even though that .com domain was purchased with a Canadian register.

What’s more, even when a domain is registered under a handle that is outside of the United States’ official jurisdiction, the US government has international cooperation agreements with many countries that require foreign registries to abide by US directives. The most high-profile case of this kind was this summer’s shuttering of one of the world’s most notorious file-sharing sites—KAT.cr, or the KickassTorrents website. While the site had been playing a game of Internet domain Whac-a-mole to retain a leg up on global intellectual property authorities, it was registered with the .cr domain by the Costa Rican register called NIC when it was shuttered at the request of the US. The site’s alleged operator was arrested in July in Poland and charged by US authorities with varying criminal copyright infringement counts.

The US often leaves a landing page on shuttered sites notifying Web surfers that sites were “seized pursuant to an order issued by a US District Court.” Whether you call it censorship or just following the law, countries across the globe have similar domain-seizing powers that won’t be disturbed by the ICANN changeover.

The fact that .com, .net, and .org sites are run by US-based companies isn’t trivial, either. Verisign, of Virginia, maintains the global DNS Internet root zone system at the center of the ICANN transition debate, and the company has an indefinite contractual right from ICANN to manage the globe’s .com and .net domains. About 127 million of the world’s 334 million top-level domain name registrations worldwide are .com, according to Verisign. The .net domain comes in fifth place worldwide, and .org is sixth place. The .org domain is operated by the Public Interest Registry, also of Virginia.

There’s a lot more, so go read it all. This lawsuit is basically a confluence of stupidity, xenophobia, and Obama derangement. It deserves a quick and unceremonious death, and thankfully, it received one.

U.S. District Judge George C. Hanks Jr. turned down the request by Paxton and attorneys general from Arizona, Oklahoma and Nevada, saying they had relied on “hearsay” about possible repercussions of the contract’s expiration. The case, he ruled, lacked enough evidence to convince the court that harm would come from giving up oversight of the nonprofit.

[…]

During the hearing, Hanks said he was concerned whether his court has jurisdiction over the matter, and whether there was enough evidence of negative consequences that would result from the ending contract.

Attorneys representing Texas argued there is no getting control and oversight on the internet address book once the contract ends.

Lawyers representing the federal government contend the plaintiffs have “not one scintilla of evidence” something adverse would happen to the governments’ websites.

Thank goodness for sanity. The fact that you are able to read this post, or anything else on the Internet today, is proof that Paxton and Cruz were full of it. The Press and Politico have more.

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3 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    I, for one, cannot wait for the day when American exceptionalism is truly dead. This is a good start, however.

  2. becky says:

    what an idiot Paxton is…. and how much money did that cost Texas tax payers???

  3. Gary Bennett says:

    Is there any prospect of having Paxton legally declared brain dead?