How has the Internet worked so well—and stayed as free as it is—for so long? One big reason is U.S. oversight, and the Obama administration has now said it’s giving that up.

Absent oversight of the Department of Commerce, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will likely face greater pressure from those who wish to censor, restrict, tax or otherwise pursue measures to undermine a free and open Web. As Heritage experts explain:

ICANN is a U.S. nonprofit corporation established in 1998 to manage the Internet’s domain name system (DNS). The DNS is what allows users of the Internet, for example, to type “” and reach the correct website.

“Although the U.S. regulatory hand was light, its role was seen as a vital bulwark to preserve the independence of ICANN and ensure that American priorities for a free and open Internet were defended,” Heritage experts say in a new paper.

They warn that this transition to more global governance of the Internet opens the door for China, Iran, Russia, and others that favor censorship and obstruction.

“Other nations do not share America’s perspective and have sought repeatedly to work through U.N. organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to constrain and censor the Internet,” they say. “Absent direct U.S. support, ICANN must answer to 193 nations, many of which want to control and obstruct a free and open Internet.”

Will the Internet become the domain of foreign governments or the United Nations? That remains up to Congress.

LEARN MORE: Important Work to Be Done Before the U.S. Relinquishes Stewardship of ICANN