GAO: IANA Hand-Off Doesn't Need Hill OK

The Government Accountability Office has concluded that the government hand-off of the ICANN internet domain naming (IANA) authority is not a government transfer of property requiring congressional approval.

The Obama Administration pushed for ending the U.S. oversight, arguing it was largely ceremonial anyway.

Legislators, particularly Republicans, concerned about the hand-off to a multistakeholder model—and the possible influence of countries like China and Russia—had suggested it was such a property transfer and thus first needed Congressional sign-off.

Related: Republicans: IANA Hand-Off Could Be Unconstitutional

In its report, GAO said: "We find it is unlikely that either the domain name system or the authoritative root zone file (the 'address book' for the top-level domain) is U.S. Government property under Article IV.  We also find the Government may have certain data rights, and has limited intellectual and tangible property, all of which constitute Article IV property, but that property will be retained and not disposed of in connection with the transition. Finally, the Government has a contractual right to continued performance by the entities carrying out the IANA functions and related services. That right, which also constitutes U.S. Government property, would be disposed of if NTIA terminates the agreements rather than allowing them to expire, but NTIA has the requisite authority to dispose of this Government property interest."

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which had been overseeing IANA under a contract that it was allowing to expire at the end of this month, was understandably pleased.

“We thank the GAO for its thorough analysis of the property implications of the IANA transition," said NTIA chief Larry Strickling. "We are pleased that GAO concluded that the transition does not involve a transfer of U.S. government property requiring Congressional approval.”

Strickling has said that the hand-off is a key to encouraging internet freedom.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a strong critic of the hand-off who had backed a bill to prevent it unless Congress signed off, is holding a hearing on the subject Wednesday (Sept. 14)--"Protecting Internet Freedom: Implications of Ending U.S. Oversight of the Internet"--at which Strickling is scheduled to testify, along with many others. 

The Center for Democracy and Technology and Public Knowledge joined with other groups to push for the transition to go off as scheduled at the end of this month.

"We believe the best defense against foreign governments exerting control over the Internet is to finish the transition on time," they said in a letter to members of Congress. "The transition of these functions away from the US government removes an excuse for authoritarian countries to demand greater oversight and regulation of Internet issues."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.