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ICANN on “knife edge” after accountability impasse

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2015, 15:34:14 (UTC), Domain Policy

The ICANN board of directors and the community group tasked with improving its accountability have failed to come to a compromise over the future direction of the organization, despite an intense two-day argument at the weekend.

As the often fractious Los Angeles gathering drew to a close, ICANN chair Steve Crocker said that the board was sticking to its original position on how ICANN should be structured in future, apparently unmoved by opposing arguments.

Other directors later echoed that view.

The Cross Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG) has proposed a raft of measures designed to ensure ICANN can be held to account in future if its board goes off the rails and starts behaving crazy.

Basically, it’s trying to find a back-stop to replace the US government, which intends to remove itself from stewardship of the DNS root zone next year.

A key proposal from the CCWG is that ICANN should be remade as a member organization, a specific type of legal structure under California law.

A Sole Member, governed by community members, would have to right to take ICANN to court to enforce its bylaws.

But the ICANN board thinks that’s too complicated, that it would replace the board with the Sole Member as the ultimate governing body of ICANN, and that it could lead to unintended consequences.

It’s suggested a replacement Multistakeholder Enforcement Model that would do away with the Member and replace it with a binding arbitration process.

Its model is a lot weaker than the one proposed by the CCWG.

Much of the LA meeting’s testing first day was taken up with discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of these two models.

The second day, in an effort to adopt a more collegial tone, attendees attempted to return to the basics of how decisions are made and challenged in ICANN.

The result was a discussion that dwelt slightly too long on technicalities like voting thresholds, committee make-ups and legal minutiae.

There seems to be a general consensus that the meeting didn’t accomplish much.

Towards the end of the first day, National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Larry Stricking urged attendees to get their acts together and come up with something simple that had broad community support. He said:

At this point, we do not have a view that any particular approach is absolutely okay or is absolutely not okay. But what I can tell you is that the work that we need to see, the thoroughness, the detail, and I put this in the blog, it is not there yet. So that I don’t feel comfortable even taking what we saw in these reports and trying to opine on them because there are too many open questions

On Saturday, fellow government man Ira Magaziner, who was deeply involved with ICANN’s creation as a member of the Clinton administration, issued a stark warning.

“I think you can fail. And I think you’re right on a knife’s edge now as to whether you’ll succeed or fail,” he said.

He warned that the IANA transition is going to become a political football as the US presidential election enters its final year and unorthodox candidates (I think he means the Republican clown car) are putting forward “somewhat nationalistic” points of view.

“I think you have a limited amount of time to get this done and for the US government to consider it and pass it,” he said.

That basically means the transition has to happen before January 2017, when there’ll be a new president in the White House. If it’s a Republican, the chances of the transition going ahead get slimmer.

Sure enough, within 24 hours the first reports emerged that Republican hopeful Ted Cruz, backed up by a few other senators, is asking the Government Accountability Office whether it’s even within the power of the US executive to remove itself from the IANA process.

In a letter, Cruz asked:

1. Would the termination of the NTIA’s contract with ICANN cause Government property, of any kind, to be transferred to ICANN?

2. Is the authoritative root zone file, or other related or similar materials or information, United States government property?

3. If so, does the NTIA have the authority to transfer the root zone file or, other related materials or information to a non-federal entity?

If this kind of anti-transition sentiment catches popular opinion, you can guarantee other jingoistic candidates will fall in line.

So ICANN’s on the clock, racing the US political process. In Magaziner’s view, the meat of the disagreements needs to be resolved by the end of the Dublin meeting — three weeks from now — or not long thereafter.

He seems to be of the view that the CCWG has overreached its remit. He said:

The task of accountability that was assigned to this group was, as the chair said this morning, to replace the ultimate backstop of the US government with a community-based backstop. The committee was not charged to completely rewrite the way ICANN works. I’m sure ICANN can be improved and there ought to be an ongoing process to improve the way it works, but this particular committee and NTIA didn’t ask you to completely redo ICANN.

The LA meeting didn’t seem to help much in moving the accountability debate closer.

On Saturday afternoon, Crocker spoke to confirm that the board is sticking to its guns in opposing the Sole Member model.

“We certainly did not understand and don’t believe that creating a superstructure to replace them [the US government] in a corporate sense was intended, desired, needed, or appropriate,” he said.

“So in the comments that we submitted some time ago, we did represent a board position. We did a quick check this morning, and 100% agreement that what we said then still stands,” he said.

That’s a reference to the board feedback on the CCWG proposal submitted September 11.

Now, the CCWG has to figure out what to do before Dublin.

Currently, it’s combing through the scores of public comments submitted on its last draft proposals (probably something that should have happened earlier) in order to figure out exactly where everyone agrees and disagrees.

It seems ICANN 54, which starts October 16, will be dominated by this stuff.

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Comments (6)

  1. Jean Guillon says:

    Interested post dated 2014 from Angela Merkel: “German Chancellor Angela Merkel is proposing building up a European communications network to help improve data protection.”

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26210053

  2. Howie says:

    Sounds akin to ” Sepp Blatter refuses to step down as FIFA president despite criminal probe as he insists he has done nothing ‘illegal or improper’ “

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      You think ICANN is corrupt? That would make a great story if it were true.

      • Rubens Kuhl says:

        In making staffers or officers rich ? No.
        In choosing self-preservation of the organization instead of community (in a broad sense, not specifically the current SO/ACs) interest ? Pretty much.

  3. James says:

    Or: How do you propose sharing power with an organization that currently has all of it, and doesn’t wanna?

  4. Louise says:

    Brett Schaeffer said,

    If the ICANN board is successful, a post-transition ICAAN would be unaccountable to the multi-stakeholder community while possessing, in effect, a monopoly power of control over a critical Internet resource.

    Ditto, Brett Schaeffer

    The U.S. Must Reject the ICANN Transition If Accountability Falls Short
    http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/10/the-us-must-reject-the-icann-transition-if-accountability-falls-short

    ICANN is concerned over nothing vs its own corrupt longevity.

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