What could go wrong? The Obama administration quietly let this one leak out in a Friday afternoon news dump, which seems to have worked; few people noted the retreat on ICANN, even the qualified retreat described by the Washington Post:

U.S. officials announced plans Friday to relinquish federal government control over the administration of the Internet, a move that pleased international critics but alarmed some business leaders and others who rely on the smooth functioning of the Web.

Pressure to let go of the final vestiges of U.S. authority over the system of Web addresses and domain names that organize the Internet has been building for more than a decade and was supercharged by the backlash last year to revelations about National Security Agency surveillance.

The change would end the long-running contract between the Commerce Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based nonprofit group. That contract is set to expire next year but could be extended if the transition plan is not complete.

“We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan,” Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said in a statement.

That would be just peachy, if … the aggregated stakeholders in the Internet all thought free expression was a great idea. That, however, is a mighty big if. The United Nations recently passed a resolution attempting to shut down any criticism of Islam, and Russia just spent the last two weeks locking out any websites that dissented from its military incursion into Crimea, for just two examples of what the brave new world of the Internet might look like under non-US control.

ICANN, after all, controls the entire Internet through its assignment and management of domain names. It hasn’t been a perfect steward of that responsibility by any measure, but I’d trust it a lot more than I’d trust the United Nations to service those requests. It would be bad enough to have a unilateral organization of liberal democracies running it, with all of the inherent confusion and inefficiencies that would produce. Add in the malevolence of dictatorships, kleptocracies, and flat-out lunatic regimes being given the keys to suppressing criticism from all corners of the plant rather than just the ability to intercede in their own fiefdoms, and you have the recipe for utter disaster.

I for one cannot wait to have China imposing filters on my Bing searches. Or to see the hotair.com domain get threatened for criticizing the new regime. Er … yay.

Republicans sense an opportunity developing:

The Obama administration’s decision to relinquish oversight over the group that manages the Internet’s architecture has raised an early red flag with Republicans, who blast the move as a threat to free speech. …

Exactly who would regulate the Web’s back-end is unclear, but the decision already has sparked backlash among some in the GOP, who warn it could allow the United Nations or authoritarian countries to step in and seize control of the Web.

“While I certainly agree our nation must stridently review our procedures regarding surveillance in light of the NSA controversy, to put ourselves in a situation where censorship-laden governments like China or Russia could take a firm hold on the Internet itself is truly a scary thought,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Senate Commerce Committee and with the Commerce Department on this, because — to be blunt — the ‘global internet community’ this would empower has no First Amendment.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, minutes after the Friday announcement, tweeted: “Every American should worry about Obama giving up control of the Internet to an undefined group. This is very, very dangerous.”

And that’s just a start.

“This is red meat for the base,” said former Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.), who sponsored a resolution in 2012 aimed at keeping the Internet free of governmental control. “We’re at a critical time where [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is proving he is capable of outmaneuvering the administration. … As they digest it, I think people are going to be very upset.”

Part of this is driven by the NSA’s activities on the Internet, but moving the control from ICANN isn’t going to prevent that in the future anyway. Meanwhile, our recent fecklessness in foreign policy doesn’t exactly build confidence that this administration will demand respect for free speech in an Internet partially controlled by players such as China and Russia. Whoever thought this was a good moment for this change should have their head examined.