Nominet chair Baroness Rennie Fritchie has apologized for “embarrassment” caused by leaked emails that suggested Nominet and UK officials tried to avoid freedom of information laws.
But she has rebutted allegations that Nominet executives conspired to orchestrate a government takeover of the .uk namespace during a fractious board dispute back in 2008.
In a statement to Nominet members today, Fritchie said she has conducted a “fact-finding review” of the allegations and had “concluded that Nominet did not manufacture Government concern.”
As we reported a month ago, former policy director Emily Taylor made a number of claims about Nominet’s actions in 2008, when executives perceived a threat to control of the board by certain vocal domainers.
In order to ensure a friendlier board, Nominet approached the UK government for help, according to Taylor.
This led to an independent review, a restructuring of Nominet’s board, and powers for the government to take over the running of .uk being included in the Digital Economy Act of 2010.
Nominet has maintained, and Fritchie now says she has confirmed, that the concerns originated with the government, BT and the Confederation of British Industry, and not the other way around.
we have been extremely disappointed to see that correspondence from a troubled time in Nominet’s history has led to a skewed and inaccurate interpretation of events.
Having personally considered all available evidence, I have concluded that Nominet did not manufacture Government concern. There were longstanding issues, and the failure to win support for the proposed improvements in our governance at the AGM in 2008 was the catalyst that put Nominet’s problems firmly in the spotlight.
I have also been reassured that the concerns raised by CBI and BT representatives immediately following the 2008 AGM were not concocted by Nominet.
It also emerged last month that UK government officials and Nominet executives had been communicating via private email accounts, apparently in order to avoid Freedom of Information Act requirements.
One Nominet email from 2008 provided to DI signed off with “It feels wonderful to work free from fear of FOI !!”
It is for this email that Fritchie appears to be apologizing. She wrote:
We would however like to apologise for the embarrassment caused to members by an inappropriate suggestion, made in an email from a Nominet employee, that information could or should be deleted by officials to avoid an anticipated Freedom of Information request. This was a misguided attempt to ensure that open and honest conversations about how to secure the membership model of Nominet could take place, without being inappropriately influenced by those with vested interests. I would like to assure members that this was the result of troubled times, and is not at all representative of the way that Nominet operates.
The message was posted to Nominet’s members-only forum this afternoon.
The story may not be over yet, however.
Last month, Andrew Smith, Member of Parliament for Nominet’s home town of Oxford, told DI that he had referred Taylor’s freedom of information claims to Head of the Home Civil Service and the Chair of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
“These are very serious matters and it is important they are properly investigated,” he said.