There’s a rumor going around this morning that ICANN is planning to up sticks from its US base in California and become subject to Swiss jurisdiction instead.
While this would be a huge change for ICANN, which has been tethered to the US government since its formation in 1998, it’s almost certainly not what’s happening.
The rumor emerged following CEO Fadi Chehade’s speech at the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum in Korea yesterday, during which he talked about setting up a “legal structure” in Switzerland.
Addressing long-standing criticisms that ICANN is too US-centric, he discussed the recent creation of “hub” offices in Istanbul and Singapore, then said:
You heard me announce recently in Durban that ICANN, for the first time, is setting up a legal structure in Switzerland. That means that ICANN is going to seek to become an international organization that is serving the world, not just as a private corporation in California. These are important fundamental steps that we are exploring in order for ICANN to take a new global posture.
That ICANN wants a Swiss presence is not news. At the Durban meeting in July Chehade said publicly that ICANN had opened an “engagement center” in Geneva, headed by his senior adviser Tarek Kamel.
But the version of the Chehade quote doing the rounds on mailing lists today capitalizes “International Organization”, which arguably changes the meaning and makes his remarks seem more profound.
A capitalized “International Organization” can mean one of two legal structures: either an International Non-Governmental Organization or an Intergovernmental Organization.
That would, indeed, imply a change of jurisdiction. ICANN is currently, legally, a California non-profit corporation.
However, if Chehade just said “international organization” with no implied upper-case letters, it just means it’s an organization with offices and legal entities internationally.
I think this is closer to the truth, and so do People In A Position To Know whom I’ve run this by this morning.
It’s important to note that ICANN’s Affirmation of Commitments with the US government forces it to stay headquartered in the US:
ICANN affirms its commitments to: … remain a not for profit corporation, headquartered in the United States of America with offices around the world to meet the needs of a global community;
While Chehade has expansionist plans on a scale beyond any of his predecessors, it seems unlikely that these include breaking the AoC, incurring the wrath of the US government.
UPDATE: ICANN has provided DI with the following statement:
ICANN is not currently planning to set up a headquarters office in Switzerland. We will have an engagement center in Geneva, along with others scattered around the world but our three main hubs, as Fadi has previously announced, will be in L.A., Istanbul and Singapore.