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The Internet's Domain Naming System Is Now A 2016 Campaign Issue, Somehow

Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz are allies, at least when it comes to an arcane policy battle over the technical management of the internet.

Posted on September 21, 2016, at 7:03 p.m. ET

Mike Stone / Reuters

Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz see eye to eye on at least one issue: blocking the long-planned transfer of the internet's technical management to an international body.

"Donald Trump is committed to preserving internet freedom for the American people and citizens all over the world," Stephen Miller, the national policy director for the Trump campaign, said in a statement released Wednesday. "The US should not turn control of the internet over to the United Nations and the international community."

Since 1998, an international nonprofit called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been responsible for overseeing the web's global domain naming system — which allows us to connect to unique web addresses from anywhere in the world.

Oversight of the naming system officially resides with the US Department of Commerce. But for almost two decades the agency has contracted out the responsibility to ICANN. To remove the US government as a middleman, and to advance a vision of the internet as a truly global, open network, ICANN is scheduled to take on the management responsibilities of the naming system on Oct. 1.

Cruz, however, has been mounting a campaign to block the transfer and has been gathering support on the Hill from key Republicans. They fear that ceding authority to an international, multi-stakeholder organization will empower authoritarian governments to censor what people see online. Trump's endorsement of the position elevates the ICANN transfer to the 2016 campaign stage.

"Internet freedom is now at risk with the president’s intent to cede control to international interests, including countries like China and Russia, which have a long track record of trying to impose online censorship," Miller said.

Awkwardly, Cruz has thus far not endorsed Trump for president, though his spokeswoman said the senator is "glad to have" Trump's support on this particular issue.

re: Cruz/DJT, @catblackfrazier says "glad to have his support on the Internet freedom effort" but "no change" on endorsement position

In a recent congressional hearing on the ICANN transition, ICANN's president and a top official in the Commerce Department insisted that fears of a Russian-Chinese takeover of the internet are unfounded. While authoritarian governments do deploy a variety of methods to filter, block, and surveil internet traffic, the domain name system that ICANN manages operates at a different level than those forms of censorship.

Experts say that blocking the transfer would actually embolden Russia and other foreign powers who would rather see internet stewardship reside with state governments, as opposed to the global, non-governmental makeup of ICANN.

But Cruz and now Trump remain unconvinced. Along with dozens of congressional Republicans, Cruz is working to delay the transfer of ICANN's oversight. The disagreement over ICANN has also become entangled with protracted budget negotiations that must be resolved by Sept. 30, in order for the government to remain open.

"Congress needs to act, or internet freedom will be lost for good, since there will be no way to make it great again," Miller said. ICANN declined to comment for this story. The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.