President Obama’s recent plan to transfer control over Internet domains from the US government to an international organization has generated a firestorm of criticism. Here’s what this controversy is all about…

The contract between ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the company that oversees Internet IP addresses and domain names, and the U.S. government is set to expire in 2015.

A proposal floated by a division of the U.S. Commerce Department stated that the government would transfer oversight from ICANN to an multinational organization after the existing agreement expired.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a component of the U.S. Commerce Department, announced a plan to begin transitioning “key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder [sic] community.”

The United States would surrender ultimate control of what keeps the Internet free and accessible to virtually anyone, anyplace, anytime, to an unelected, uncontrollable “global community.”

Criticism of this plan came primarily from conservatives and Republicans. However, an unlikely, high-profile opponent publicly voiced his concerns at a recent forum.

Bill Clinton Speaking 2014 Winter Meeting

Photo credit: Clinton Global Initiative

Former President Bill Clinton shared his thoughts at a recent gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) 2014 at Arizona State University. Surprisingly, the President was a very strong critic of this recent decision.

“I understand in theory why we should have a multi-stakeholder process. I favor that. I just know that a lot of these stakeholders are really governments that want to gag people and restrict access to the Internet.”

Some of the governments and corporations that are stakeholders in this agreement are in Turkey, Russia and China. The Chinese and Russians haven’t been tolerant when it comes to dissenting opinions from its citizens. Bureaucrats and leaders in these countries would be more open to restricting free access to the Internet than their American counterparts.

Recent revelations about government spying on citizens through the NSA by Edward Snowden has caused some concern among some people whether the U.S. government is still the best guarantor of Internet freedom.

Although the United States government has become more oppressive towards Americans in recent years, it’s taken a more laissez-faire “hands-off” approach towards the Internet. If this plan is implemented in 2015, it’s unclear how it would affect Internet access and cost for American individuals and businesses.

Clinton added, “A lot of people… have been trying to take this authority from the U.S. for the sole purpose of cracking down on Internet freedom and limiting it and having governments protect their backsides instead of empowering their people.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales (also an active member of ICANN) shared Clinton’s concern about this proposal. He told the CGI U audience that he had reservations when other members argued there needed to be more respect for local cultures on the Internet. That could lead to censorship of content, which is something the U.S. has tried to prevent except in instances where content is illegal (such as child pornography).

“I don’t know the way forward. Internet governance is a complicated issue. But it does concern me,” Wales said.

That quote sums up the Internet governance situation the best. Obama has already made exceptions and postponed deadlines because of fierce criticism of ObamaCare. With Republicans (and now a key Democrat) strongly opposing this proposal, let’s hope the President gets the message and keeps Internet access under American control.