Washington, D.C. – A bicameral group of lawmakers is questioning the constitutionality of the Department of Commerce’s plans to transition critical Internet infrastructure systems away from U.S. government stewardship and oversight.  In a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked whether the plan would result in the transfer of government property, which could violate Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution.

At issue are key components of the Internet’s infrastructure, collectively known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, which enable the efficient operation of the Internet. Included is the management of the root zone file, which was developed by taxpayer-funded Department of Defense researchers, and which remains designated as a “national IT asset” by the U.S. government. Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to transfer government property. If this file—or other government-developed components of the Internet—are determined to be the property of the government, then transferring their control to a nongovernmental entity without congressional consent, as the Department of Commerce has proposed, may violate the Constitution.

The Commerce Department’s contracts with the organizations that administer Internet name and address system policies explicitly state that the root zone file is “the property of the U.S. government,” and changes cannot be made to the file without government approval.  Congress has also passed legislation blocking federal funding for efforts to relinquish stewardship of the domain name system, including the root zone file.

To ensure that Congress is informed of any government property that may be transferred without its approval, the lawmakers asked GAO to study the government property implications of the Department of Commerce’s proposal. They also asked GAO to determine whether the agency has the legal authority to conduct such a transfer to a nongovernmental entity without congressional approval.

Text of the letter can be found here.