CLBR Segment 1: ICANN-AMA with Cameron Kerry

ICANN-AMA with Cameron Kerry

The decision of the Obama administration to move forward with a plan to transition the U.S.’s oversight role over ICANN to some other entity has sparked a political backlash that is eerily reminiscent of the Republican opposition to the Panama Canal Treaty that transferred control of the canal to Panama.

We speak with Cameron Kerry, former General Counsel of the Department of Commerce and now at the Brookings Institute about what exactly this transition means and the politics of the move.

We bought it. We built it. We paid for it. We intend to keep it.

Ronald Reagan on Panama Canal

The ICANN transition will apply the same model across the board and complete the spinoff of the Internet from government that began in 1998, when ICANN was established and responsibility for overseeing the domain name internet registry systems was moved from the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) to Commerce.  This moved the Internet fully into the civilian world and reflected the principles in the 1997 U.S. Framework for E-Commerce declaring that the development of the Internet should be led by the private sector with a minimum of government involvement. . . . 

Nevertheless, NTIA’s role in ICANN has taken on heavy symbolic freight way out of proportion to its value.  While there is nothing in the role that enables any of the NSA surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden, the existence of this U.S. government role feeds a perception that the United States is somehow manipulating the Internet for its own economic and strategic advantage.  It’s not a perception on the part of foreigners only:  in criticizing NTIA’s decision, Newt Gingrich described it as “giving up control of the Internet.”

The U.S. does not have “control of the Internet.”  Along with other countries for which the free flow of information, ideas, and innovation matter, it does have a large stake in continuing to protect the Internet from government control.  Relinquishing NTIA’s residual role will makes that job easier.

Cameron Kerry, Former General Counsel U.S. Department of Commerce

U.S. control of the Internet’s basic functions has kept the Web free for Americans and for the entire world. And it’s up to us to keep it that way.  As Ronald Reagan said during the great Panama Canal controversy in the mid-1970s, We bought it. We built it. We paid for it. We intend to keep it.

Phyllis Schlaffly

While measures to block the transfer advanced in Congress, groups such as the Internet Society warned that

The DOTCOM Act will give additional ammunition to foreign governments and stakeholders who oppose Internet freedom, bolstering their argument for an overhaul of the current Internet governance system to facilitate greater control by non-democratic governments or international organizations… Passage of the DOTCOM Act would unnecessarily interfere with the announced transition process, which is still in development through an open consultation convened by ICANN. Further, it would damage the reputation of the United States as a champion of multi-stakeholder Internet governance and contradict previous bipartisan statements of Congressional support for the multi-stakeholder governance model.

American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy & Technology, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, New America’s Open Technology Institute and Public Knowledge.

We can extend the contract for up to four years

Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling


Cameron Kerry joined Governance Studies and the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings as the first Ann R. and Andrew H. Tisch Distinguished Visiting Fellow in December 2013. He is also a visiting scholar with the MIT Media Lab. Kerry served as General Counsel and Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Commerce, where he was a leader on a wide of range of issues laying a new foundation for U.S. economic growth in a global marketplace. He continues to speak and write on these issues, particularly privacy and data security, intellectual property, and international trade.

While Acting Secretary, Cameron Kerry served as chief executive of this Cabinet agency and its 43,000 employees around the world, as well as an adviser to the President. His tenure marked the first time in U.S. history two siblings have served in the President’s Cabinet at the same time.

As General Counsel, he was the principal legal adviser to the several Secretaries of Commerce and Commerce agency heads, and oversaw the work of more than 400 lawyers across these agencies. He was a leader in the Obama Administration’s successful effort to pass the America Invents Act, the most significant overhaul of the patent system in more 150 years. As co-chair of the National Science & Technology Council Subcommittee on Privacy and Internet Policy, he spearheaded development of the White House blueprint on consumer privacy, Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World. He then led the Administration’s implementation of the blueprint, drafting privacy legislation and engaging on privacy issues with international partners, including the European Union. He helped establish and lead the Commerce Department’s Internet Policy Task Force, which brings together agencies with expertise in the 21st Century digital economy.

He also played a significant role on intellectual property policy and litigation, cybersecurity, international bribery, trade relations and rule of law development in China, the Gulf Oil spill litigation, and many other challenges facing a large, diverse federal agency. He travelled to the People’s Republic of China on numerous occasions to co-lead the Transparency Dialogue with China as well as the U.S./ China Legal Exchange and exchanges on anti-corruption.

Before his appointment to the Obama Administration in 2009, Cameron Kerry practiced law at the Mintz Levin firm in Boston and Washington. His practice covered a range of complex commercial litigation and regulation of telecommunications. He tried cases involving significant environmental and scientific evidence issues and taught telecommunications law as an adjunct professor at Suffolk University Law School.

Prior to joining Mintz Levin, he was an associate at Wilmer Cutler & Pickering in Washington, D.C. and a law clerk to Senior Circuit Judge Elbert P. Tuttle of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Cameron Kerry was a close adviser and national surrogate for Democratic nominee John Kerry. He has been deeply involved in electoral politics throughout his adult life. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College Law School (1978), where he was winner of the school’s moot court competition and a law review editor. and a cum laude graduate of Harvard College (1972).

The Ann R. and Andrew H. Tisch Distinguished Visiting Fellows in Governance Studies are individuals of particularly noteworthy distinction. The fellowship is designed to bring distinguished visitors from government, business, journalism, and academia to Brookings to write about challenges facing the country. Kerry is the first to be named to this prestigious fellowship.