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ICANN given 27 New Year’s resolutions

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2011, Domain Policy

There’s a pretty big shake-up coming to ICANN in 2011, following the publication late last week of a report outlining 27 ways it should reform its power structures.

The final recommendations of its Accountability and Transparency Review Team (pdf) notably direct the organization to figure out its “dysfunctional” relationship with governments once and for all.

ICANN will also have to revamp how it decides who sits on its board of directors, when its staff can make unilateral decisions, how the voices of stakeholders are heard, and how its decisions can be appealed.

The ATRT report was developed, independently, as one of ICANN’s obligations under its Affirmation of Commitments with the US government’s Department of Commerce.

As such, ICANN is pretty much bound to adopt its findings. But many are written in such a way to enable some flexibility in their implementation.

The report covers four broad areas of reform, arguably the most important of which is ICANN’s relationship with its Governmental Advisory Committee.

As I’ve previously noted, ICANN and the GAC have a major stumbling block when it comes to effective communication due mainly to the fact that they can’t agree on what GAC “advice” is.

This has led, most recently, to delays with the TLD program, and with ICM Registry’s application for .xxx.

The ATRT report tells ICANN and the GAC to define “advice” before March this year.

It also recommends the opening of more formalized communications channels, so ICANN can tell the GAC when it needs advice, and on what topics, and the GAC can respond accordingly.

The report stops short of telling ICANN to follow GAC advice on a “mandatory” basis, as had been suggested by at least one GAC member (France).

The ICANN will still be able to overrule the GAC, but it will do so in a more formalized way.

ICANN’s public comment forums also look set for a rethink.

The ATRT report recommends, among other things, separating comment periods into at least two flavors and two phases, giving different priorities to different stages of policy development.

It could also could break out comment periods into two segments, to give commentators the chance to, in a second phase, rebut the earlier comments of others.

The three ICANN appeals processes (its Ombudsman, the Reconsideration Request process and the Independent Review Process) are also set for review.

The ATRT group wants ICANN to, before June, hire “a committee of independent experts” to figure out whether these procedures can be make cheaper, quicker and more useful.

The IRP, for example, is pretty much a rich man’s appeals process. The Ombudsman is seen as too cozy with ICANN to be an effective avenue for complaints. And the Reconsideration Request process has too many strict prerequisites to make it a useful tool.

The report includes a recommendation that ICANN should, in the next six months, clarify under what circumstances its is able to make decisions without listening to bottom-up consensus first:

The Board should clarify, as soon as possible but no later than June 2011 the distinction between issues that are properly subject to ICANN’s policy development processes and those matters that are properly within the executive functions performed by the ICANN staff and Board

ICANN has also been told to address how it selects its directors, with emphasis on:

identifying the collective skill-set required by the ICANN Board including such skills as public policy, finance, strategic planning, corporate governance, negotiation, and dispute resolution.

Other the recommendations themselves, the ATRT spends part of its 200-page report moaning about how little time (about nine months) it had to carry out its work, and how little importance some ICANN senior staff seemed to give to the process.

All of the 27 recommendations are expected to be implemented over the next six months. The report is currently open for public comment here.

Another top staffer quits ICANN

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2011, Domain Policy

Tina Dam, senior director of internationalized domain names at ICANN, has quit.

The news appears to have been broken on Twitter by Adrian Kinderis, CEO of AusRegistry, which does quite a bit of work with IDNs in the middle-east.

It’s my understanding that Dam may have actually resigned almost a month ago, during ICANN’s meeting in Cartagena.

Her move comes at an awkward time for ICANN, which is in the middle of revamping its IDN ccTLD Fast Track program, which Dam headed.

Dam has been with ICANN for many years, and is widely well-regarded by the community.

Overseeing the IDN program is a highly specialized and, one imagines, quite stressful position. Finding a qualified replacement will not be trivial.

Her name is added to the list of senior ICANN staffers to either quit or get fired over the last year, which currently numbers at least half a dozen.

Cops seize 1,800 domains in 2010

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2010, Domain Policy

Nominet helped the UK’s Metropolitan Police seize 1,800 .uk domains during 2010, many of them just prior to Christmas, according to the Met.

The domains all allegedly hosted “bogus” sites that were “either fraudulent or advertising counterfeit goods which failed to materialise”, the Met said.

While a statement from the Police Central e-Crime Unit said it had worked with “registrars” to shut down the domains, it also credited Nominet a role:

The sites are run by organised criminal networks and thought to generate millions of pounds which can then be used to fund further illicit activity.

The preventative action was carried out in partnership with Nominet – the public body for UK domain name registrations – and involved a concentrated effort around the festive period; a time when we traditionally see an upsurge in this type of crime as fraudsters take advantage of the increased number of online consumers.

It’s not the first time the UK police, with Nominet’s aid, have swooped to shut down such domains.

In December 2009, a similar announcement from the PCeU, which said that 1,219 domains had been turned off, was greeted less than warmly by some.

Web hosting companies reportedly often ask for a court order before shutting down sites. When VeriSign helped US law enforcement seize 80+ domains in November, it did so subject to a court order.

It seems domains in the UK may not be subject to such judicial oversight.

Nominet chief executive Lesley Cowley, discussing the December 2009 seizures in a recent interview, would only tell me that the police had “instructed” Nominet to shut down the domains.

According to The Register’s coverage, Nominet used the lack of authentic Whois data as legal cover for those seizures.

But there is a new Nominet policy development process under way, initiated by the UK Serious and Organised Crime Agency, which seeks to amend the standard .uk registrant agreement to give a stronger contractual basis for seizing domains when they appear to break UK law.

Go Daddy-Google group targets bogus pill merchants

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2010, Domain Policy

The newly forming industry body tasked with taking down web sites selling fake pharmaceuticals plans to meet next month to develop its mission statement and charter, according to Go Daddy general counsel Christine Jones.

Jones said in an interview tonight that the group, which Go Daddy is jointly “spearheading” with Google, is likely to meet in Phoenix, Arizona in the third week of January.

As I blogged earlier today, the organization was formed following a series of meetings at the White House, which has a policy of reducing counterfeit drugs sales online.

Domain name companies including Go Daddy, eNom, Neustar and Network Solutions are joined in the currently nameless non-profit by the three major search engines and all the major payment processors.

Jones confirmed that redirecting a domain name is an action a participating registrar could take if it finds an infringing site. Go Daddy and others already do this in cases of child porn, for example.

But the group will also share information about fake pharma sites so Google, for example, would also be able to block them from search and Visa could stop payments being processed, Jones told me.

The White House meetings were organized by Victoria Espinel, the administration’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC).

So, while the group has yet to formalize its policies, I wanted to know what the prevailing opinion is on how “illegal” a site will have to be before the group will try to take it down.

Taking down a site selling sugar pills or industrial acid as HIV treatments is one thing, killing a site selling genuine medications to people without prescriptions is another, and blocking a legit pharmacy that sells drugs to Americans with prescriptions more cheaply from across the Canadian border is yet another.

Jones said: “If a pharmacy is a licensed pharmacy and is abiding by whatever the state rules are wherever they’re located, that’s not our target.”

Apparently the new organization, which will be formed as a non-profit entity, may help the companies to avoid running afoul of ECPA, the US Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Jones said that other companies participating in the White House meetings still have not decided whether to join the new group or not. End-of-year budgetary issues may be a factor here.

Domain registrars have come in for considerable flak over 2010 for allegedly not doing enough to counter fake pharma sites.

A Knujon report published in May, and others, eventually led to eNom in particular promising to crack down harder on rogue pharmacies.

Go Daddy proposes fake pharma site shutdown body

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2010, Domain Policy

A cross-industry body that will make it easier for web sites selling fake drugs to be shut down is forming in the US, led by Google and Go Daddy.

The idea for the currently nameless organization was announced yesterday following a series of meetings between the internet industry and White House officials.

The group will “start taking voluntary action against illegal Internet pharmacies” which will include stopping payment processing and shutting down web sites.

The domain name business is represented by the three biggest US registrars – Go Daddy, eNom and Network Solutions – as well as Neustar (.biz, .us, etc) on the registry side.

Surprisingly, VeriSign (.com) does not appear to be involved currently.

Other members include the major credit card companies – American Express, Visa and Mastercard – as well as PayPal and search engines Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

According to a statement provided by Neustar:

GoDaddy and Google took the lead on proposing the formation of a private sector 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that would be dedicated to promoting information sharing, education, and more efficient law enforcement of rogue internet pharmacies.

It’s early days, so there are no specifics as yet as to how the organization will function, such as under what circumstances it will take down sites.

There’s no specific mention of domain names being turned off or seized, although reading between the lines that may be part of the plan.

There’s substantial debate in the US as to what kinds of pharmaceuticals sites constitute a risk to health and consumer protection.

While many sites do sell worthless or potentially harmful medications, others are overseas companies selling genuine pharma cheaply to Americans, who often pay a stiff premium for their drugs.

The organization will do more than just shut down sites, however.

It also proposes an expansion to white lists of genuine pharmacies such as the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies’ Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS).

And it will promote consumer education about the “dangers” of shopping for drugs online, as well as sharing information to stop the genuine bad guys “forum shopping” for places to host their sites.

This is what the statement says about enforcement:

The organization’s members agree to share information with law enforcement about unlawful Internet pharmacies where appropriate, accept information about Internet pharmacies operating illegally, and take voluntary enforcement action (stop payment, shut down the site, etc.) where appropriate.

While taking down sites that are selling genuinely harmful pills is undoubtedly a Good Thing, I suspect it is unlikely to go down well in that sector of the internet community concerned with the US government’s increasing role in removing content from the internet.