Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker explains why Ted Cruz is wrong about the internet


No, America doesn’t own the internet — nor should it, Pritzker says on Recode Decode.

The United States Department of Commerce controls a lot — including the U.S. Census, the NOAA and official U.S. policy on several major tech topics. But as of this month, it’s no longer overseeing the internet’s directory of web addresses.

That shift in oversight, from the Commerce Department to the international nonprofit ICANN, angered people like Sen. Ted Cruz, who warned of “significant, irreparable damage” posed by the “giveaway.” The transfer, which took place on Oct. 1, would let other countries censor content for the entire world, Cruz and other critics alleged.

Nonsense, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher.

“The internet is not controlled by one entity,” Pritzker said. “ICANN will continue to manage the domain name system, as they have for a long time. It’s been always the intention that the U.S. government would withdraw from this role.”

She argued that letting America’s direct involvement in the domain name system expire made the web less at risk of being politicized, not more, because it minimized the role of all governments.

“In 2012, Russia, China and 89 countries came together and said, ‘The United States plays a role in the internet, and if a government’s going to do that, we should move the management and oversight of the internet to the U.N,’” Pritzker said. “That would be bad. Our position, as a country and our administration, is that we should have a free and open internet that’s managed by a multi-stakeholder community.”

On the new podcast, Secretary Pritzker also discussed the remaining challenges facing the Commerce Department as the Obama administration winds down its final months. The biggest of those challenges, she said, is cybersecurity, which frightens even her.

“Here’s the real challenge: The internet’s ubiquitous, but cyber is the only domain where we ask private companies to defend against nation-states,” she said. “As sophisticated as we all get to protect ourselves, the folks attacking us get more sophisticated as well. Therefore, I remain nervous.”

You can listen to Recode Decode in the audio player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher. And don’t miss this week’s first Decode, in which Kara Swisher interviewed actor-turned-investor Ashton Kutcher.

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

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