ICANN chief Rod Beckstrom opened the organization’s 39th public meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, with a speech that touched on many of the organization’s recent controversies and appeared to take a strong stance against US government interference.
Everything from its political tangles with the International Telecommunications Union, to the recent calls for high-security top-level domains for financial services, to Beckstrom’s own controversial pet project, the proposed DNS-CERT, got a mention.
But probably Beckstrom’s strongest statement was the one which indirectly addressed recent moves by the US government to slam the brakes on ICANN’s new top-level domains program:
We are accountable to the world, not to any one country, and everything we do must reflect that.
Beckstrom acknowledged the controversies in the new TLDs policy, given last week’s strongly worded letter from the US Department of Commerce, which was highly critical of the program.
Commerce assistant secretary Lawrence Strickling has called on ICANN to delay the program until it has justified its decision under the Affirmation of Commitments.
But this morning, Beckstrom echoed sentiments expressed on the ICANN blog last week (my emphasis):
As is often the case with policy decisions in that multi-stakeholder model, not everyone is pleased, and this diversity of opinion contributes to the policy process. For example, last week we received a critical letter from the US Department of Commerce. As with all contributions, ICANN will give these comments careful consideration as part of the implementation of the GNSO policy. We welcome the transparent way that Commerce provided their comments through the public comment process.
How ICANN chooses to deal with the demands of its former master, the US government, is one of the Cartagena meeting’s Big Questions.
Another such question is how ICANN plans to deal with ongoing threats to its legitimacy from international bodies such as the International Telecommunications Union.
Addressing ITU secretary general Hamadoun Toure directly, Beckstrom said:
We have always sought to build our relationships based on mutual respect and integrity, taking into account the unique and distinct mandates entrusted to our organizations. The strengthening of communication between us is a personal priority for me.
Security is one of ICANN’s watchwords, and Beckstrom is a security guy by trade. His speeches typically address the topic to a greater or lesser extent and Cartagena was no exception.
Security policies inherently create tensions. Take, for example, controversies about the strength and enforceability of of Whois policies, or Beckstrom’s own call for a DNS-CERT to oversee DNS risk.
This morning, he said:
The staff under my leadership is willing to go as far on security as the community is willing. And whatever security effort this community decides, we will do our utmost to implement and support, given sufficient resources. Because when it comes to security, how can we ever say we’ve done enough?
And now you need to tell us: where do you want us to go?
Of course, I am sure we can agree that when it comes to security, the question is not what do we want to do? Or what is popular or easy? It’s what do we owe the world? Because all of us care about the global public interest.
He took, in my view, a subtle swing at the Governmental Advisory Committee for putting security at the heart of its ongoing policy demands, while largely failing to cooperate with ICANN’s requests for information on security issues in their own jurisdictions. Beckstrom said:
We have asked GAC members to provide information about security activities in their countries. We appreciate the information some have shared but there have been few responses. As governments urge us to remain committed to security efforts, we in turn request that they help us by responding and working with the ICANN community on this vital mission.
I know there are some European ccTLD registries a bit miffed that ICANN has in recent months gone over their heads, direct to their governments, for this information, highlighting what a tricky political situation it is.
The speech also touched on internationalized domain names, with a shout-out to the recent launch of Russia’s Cyrillic ccTLD, and general global inclusion activities. I expect the text and audio to be published on the ICANN web site to be published shortly.