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Election season at ICANN

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2017, Domain Policy

Two significant votes are coming up soon in the ICANN community, with the GNSO Council looking for a new chair and the ccNSO ready to select a new appointee for the ICANN board of directors.

The ccNSO election will see an actual contest for what is believed to be the first time, with at least two candidates fighting it out.

The GNSO vote is rather less exciting, with only one candidate running unopposed.

It seems Heather Forrest, an intellectual property lawyer, occasional new gTLD consultant, and professor at the University of Tasmania, will replace GoDaddy VP of policy James Bladel as Council chair a month from now.

Forrest, currently a vice-chair, was nominated by the Non-Contracted Parties House.

The Contracted Parties House (registries and registrars), evidently fine with Forrest taking over, decided not to field a candidate, so the November 1 vote will be a formality.

In the ccNSO world, the country-codes are electing somebody to take over from Mike Silber on the ICANN board, a rather more powerful position, when his term ends a year from now.

Nominations don’t close until a week from now, but so far there are two candidates: Nigel Roberts and Pierre Ouedraogo.

Roberts, nominated for the job by Puerto Rico, runs a collection of ccTLDs for the British Channel Islands.

Ouedraogo is from Burkina Faso but does not work for its ccTLD. He is a director of the Francophone Institute for Information and New Technologies. He was nominated by Kenya.

Both men are long-time participants in ICANN and the ccNSO.

Roberts, who currently sits on the ccNSO Council, tells me he believes it’s the first time there’s been a contested election for a ccNSO-appointed ICANN board seat since the current system of elections started in 2003.

Silber has been in the job for eight years and is term-limited so cannot stand again. The other ccNSO appointee, Chris Disspain, will occupy the other seat for another two years.

Chalaby named next ICANN chair

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2017, Domain Policy

Cherine Chalaby is to be the next chair of ICANN.

In a case of burying the lede extreme even by ICANN standards, current chair Steve Crocker announced the news in the 11th paragraph of a blog post entitled “Chairman’s Blog: The Montevideo Workshop Wrap-Up” this evening.

Crocker wrote: “the Board had an opportunity to participate in the discussion of the Board’s future leadership, and have indicated unanimous support for the future election of Cherine Chalaby as the next Chair of the ICANN Board.”

No formal election has happened yet, but the board decided to come to a consensus on which way they will vote anyway.

Chris Disspain has been selected future vice-chair using the same informal process, Crocker wrote.

The actual raising of hands will take place during the board’s Annual General Meeting in Abu Dhabi at ICANN 60 in early November.

Chalaby was born in Egypt, also holds British citizenship, and lives in ICANN’s home town of Los Angeles.

He’s the first ICANN chair to come from the financial services world, having served a career at Accenture before joining Rasmala Investments.

He’s been a member of the ICANN board since the Nominating Committee selected him in December 2010 and was elected vice-chair a few years back.

His stint as chair will not be long. I believe he’s term-limited and will have to step aside at the end of 2019.

Crocker, an early internet pioneer, has been chair since 2011. No doubt ICANN is planning a big send-off for him at ICANN 60.

More delay for Amazon as ICANN punts rejected gTLD

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2017, Domain Policy

Amazon is going to have to wait a bit longer to discover whether its 2012 application for the gTLD .amazon will remain rejected.

ICANN’s board of directors at the weekend discussed whether to revive the application in light of the recent Independent Review Process panel ruling that the bid had been kicked out for no good reason.

Instead of making a firm decision, or punting it to the Government Advisory Committee (as I had predicted), the board instead referred the matter to a subcommittee for further thought.

The newly constituted Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, which has taken over key functions of the Board Governance Committee, has been asked to:

review and consider the Panel’s recommendation that the Board “promptly re-evaluate Amazon’s applications” and “make an objective and independent judgment regarding whether there are, in fact, well-founded, merits-based public policy reasons for denying Amazon’s applications,” and to provide options for the Board to consider in addressing the Panel’s recommendation.

The notion of a “prompt” resolution appears to be subjective, but Amazon might not have much longer to wait for a firmer decision.

While the BAMC’s charter requires it to have meetings at least quarterly, if it follows the practice of its predecessor they will be far more frequent.

It’s possible Amazon could get an answer by the time of the public meeting in Abu Dhabi at the end of next month.

ICANN’s board did also resolve to immediately pay Amazon the $163,045.51 in fees the IRP panel said was owed.

The .amazon gTLD application, along with its Chinese and Japanese versions, was rejected by ICANN a few years ago purely on the basis of consensus GAC advice, led by the geographic name collisions concerns of Peru and Brazil.

However, the IRP panel found that the GAC advice appeared to based on not a great deal more than whim, and that the ICANN board should have at least checked whether there was a sound rationale to reject the bids before doing so.

Will ICANN punt on .amazon again?

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2017, Domain Policy

Amazon is piling pressure onto ICANN to finally approve its five-year-old gTLD applications for .amazon, but it seems to me the e-commerce giant will have a while to wait yet.

The company sent a letter to ICANN leadership this week calling on it to act quickly on the July ruling of an Independent Review Process panel that found ICANN had breached its own bylaws when it rejected the .amazon and and Chinese and Japanese transliterations.

Amazon’s letter said:

Such action is necessary because there is no sovereign right under international or national law to the name “Amazon,” because there are no well-founded and substantiated public policy reasons to block our Applications, because we are committed to using the TLDs in a respectful manner, and because the Board should respect the IRP accountability mechanism.

ICANN had denied the three applications based on nothing more than the consensus advice of its Governmental Advisory Committee, which had been swayed by the arguments of primarily Brazil and Peru that there were public policy reasons to keep the gTLD available for possible future use by its own peoples.

The string “Amazon”, among its many uses, is of course the name of a river and a rain forest that covers much of the South American continent.

But the IRP panel decided that the ICANN board should have at least required the GAC to explain its public policy arguments, rather than just accepting its advice as a mandate from on-high.

Global Domains Division chief Akram Atallah had testified before the panel that consensus GAC advice sets a bar “too high for the Board to say no.”

But the governmental objections “do not appear to be based on well-founded public policy concerns that justify the denial of the applications” the IRP panelists wrote.

The panel, in a 2-to-1 ruling, instructed ICANN to reopen Amazon’s applications.

Since the July ruling, ICANN’s board has not discussed how to proceed, but it seems likely that the matter will come up at its Montevideo, Uruguay retreat later this month.

No agenda for this meeting has yet been published, but there will be an unprecedented public webcast of the full formal board meeting, September 23.

The Amazon letter specifically asks the ICANN board of directors to not refer the .amazon matter back to the GAC for further advice, but I think that’s probably the most likely outcome.

I say this largely because while ICANN’s bylaws specifically allow it to reject GAC advice, it has cravenly avoided such a confrontation for most of its history.

It has on occasion even willfully misinterpreted GAC advice in order to appear that it has accepted it when it has not.

The GAC, compliantly, regularly provides pieces of advice that its leaders have acknowledged are deliberately vague and open to interpretation (for a reason best known to the politicians themselves).

It seems to me the most likely next step in the .amazon case is for the board to ask the GAC to reaffirm or reconsider its objection, giving the committee the chance to save face — and avoid a lengthy mediation process — by providing the board with something less than a consensus objection.

If ICANN were to do this, my feeling is that the GAC at large would probably be minded to stick to its guns.

But it only takes one government to voice opposition to advice for it to lose its “consensus” status, making it politically much easier for ICANN to ignore.

Hypothetically, the US government could return to its somewhat protectionist pre-2014 position of blocking consensus on .amazon, but that might risk fanning the flames of anti-US sentiment.

While the US no longer has its unique role in overseeing ICANN’s IANA function, it still acts as the jurisdictional overlord for the legal organization, which some other governments still hate.

A less confrontational approach might be to abstain and to allow friendly third-party governments to roadblock consensus, perhaps by emphasizing the importance of ICANN being seen to accountable in the post-transition world.

Anyway, this is just my gut premonition on how this could play out, based on the track records of ICANN and the GAC.

If ICANN can be relied on for anything, it’s to never make a decision on something today if it can be put off until tomorrow.

Deutsch and Doria to join ICANN board

Kevin Murphy, September 4, 2017, Domain Policy

Veteran ICANN community members Avri Doria and Sarah Deutsch are to join ICANN’s board of directors in November.

Both have been selected by ICANN’s Nominating Committee to serve three-year terms starting at the end of the public meeting in Abu Dhabi, which wraps up November 3.

They replace current chair Steve Crocker, who is leaving after his maximum three terms on the board, and Asha Hemrajani, who is leaving after one term. Both take seats reserved for North Americans.

Doria, an independent consultant, is a 12-year member of the community and tireless working group volunteer, most closely associated with the Non-Commercial Users Constituency. Her clients include Public Interest Registry.

Deutsch is an intellectual property attorney perhaps best known as a 23-year employee of Verizon. She currently works at Mayer Brown in Washington DC.

Both new directors have been knocking about ICANN for ages in various leadership positions.

This contrasts with previous years, in which NomCom has gone outside of the community for board expertise.

NomCom also selected new members of the ccNSO, GNSO and ALAC, listed here.

Iran rep reported to ICANN Ombudsman, again

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2017, Domain Policy

Iran’s Governmental Advisory Committee representative has found himself reported to ICANN’s Ombudsman for alleged bad behavior for the second time in just a few months.

Outspoken GACer Kavouss Arasteh was referred to Ombudsman Herb Waye by consultant John Laprise, according to posts on mailing lists and social media.

Both men serve on an ICANN volunteer working group that is looking at matters related to the jurisdiction in which ICANN operates.

The group’s discussions have recently become extremely fractious, largely due to a series of combative emails and teleconference interventions from Arasteh.

Laprise eventually said on the list that Arasteh was being a “bad actor”, adding that “his tone, manner, and insinuations are detrimental and indeed hostile to the process.”

He later said on Facebook that he had reported the matter to the Ombudsman.

The spat centered on an August 1 teleconference in which members of the so-called WS2-Jurisdiction working group heard a briefing from ICANN lawyers on the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees international trade sanctions in the US.

As well as enforcing sanctions against countries including Iran, OFAC maintains a list of people and organizations, many of them Iranian, that American companies are forbidden from doing business with.

It impacts ICANN because the organization in its normal course of business is often obliged to deal with ccTLD registries in sanctioned nations, for which it needs to apply for OFAC licenses.

Arasteh initially complained multiple times that the meeting had been rescheduled for August 1 — apparently with his initial consent — which is a national holiday in his home nation of Switzerland.

He also fought for ICANN lawyers to be asked to provide, at very short notice, a written briefing paper on OFAC, answering the group’s questions, prior to the teleconference taking place.

On neither issue did he receive support from fellow volunteers, something for which he seemed to blame group chair Greg Shatan, an intellectual property lawyer.

Arasteh’s criticisms of an increasingly weary Shatan sometimes seemed to border on conspiracy theory. All other working group members who publicly expressed an opinion said Shatan was doing a fine job herding this particular set of cats.

During the teleconference itself, Arasteh ate up the first five or six minutes of allotted time with a rambling, barely comprehensible complaint about the format of the meeting, compelling Shatan to eventually ask for his mic to be cut off.

In emails over the next 48 hours, the GAC rep continued his tirade against what he perceives as Shatan’s bias against him and called again for ICANN legal to provide a formal set of written answers to questions.

Some fellow group members believe Arasteh’s defensive and confrontational approach is merely a clash of cultures between his usual style of government diplomacy and the staid, tediously polite style of ICANN working group interactions.

Others are less charitable.

Still, the question of whether the latest WG friction has infringed any of ICANN’s “Expected Standards of Behavior” now appears to be in the hands of the Ombudsman.

Arasteh was also reported to Waye back in May, when he accused the chairs of a different ICANN working group of trying to exclude governmental voices from new gTLD policy-making by scheduling teleconferences at times he found inconvenient.

Waye subsequently reported that the complaint had been resolved between the parties.

In June, he said he was proactively monitoring a third working group mailing list after receiving allegations of harassment. That was unrelated to Iran.

Halloran made ICANN’s first chief data protection officer

Kevin Murphy, July 31, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN lifer Dan Halloran has added the title of chief data protection officer to his business card.

The long-serving deputy general counsel was named ICANN’s first CDPO on Friday, continuing to report to his current boss, general counsel John Jeffrey.

Privacy is currently the hottest topic in the ICANN community, with considerable debate about how contracted parties might be able to reconcile their ICANN obligations with forthcoming European data protection legislation.

But Halloran’s new role only covers the protection of personal data that ICANN itself handles; it does not appear to give him powers in relation to ongoing discussions about how registries and registrars comply with data privacy regulations.

He will be tasked with overseeing privacy frameworks for data handling and conducting occasional reviews, ICANN said.

ICANN has on occasion messed up when it comes to privacy, such as when it accidentally published the home addresses of new gTLD applicants in 2012, or when it made sensitive applicant financial data openly searchable on its applicant portal.

Halloran joined ICANN over 17 years ago and before his deputy GC position served as chief registrar liaison.

EFF recommends against new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2017, Domain Policy

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has recommended that domain registrants concerned about intellectual property “bullies” steer clear of new gTLDs.

The view is expressed in a new EFF report today that is particularly critical of policies in place at new gTLD portfolio registries Donuts and Radix.

The report (pdf) also expresses strong support for .onion, the pseudo-TLD available only to users of the Tor browser and routing network, which the EFF is a long-term supporter of.

The report makes TLD recommendations for “security against trademark bullies”, “security against identity theft and marketing”, “security against overseas speech regulators” and “security against copyright bullies”.

It notes that no one TLD is “best” on all counts, so presents a table explaining which TLD registries — a broad mix of the most popular gTLD and ccTLD registries — have which relevant policies.

For those afraid of trademark “bullies”, the EFF recommends against 2012-round new gTLDs on the basis that they all have the Uniform Rapid Suspension service. It singles out Donuts for special concern due to its Domain Protected Marks List, which adds an extra layer of protection for trademark owners.

On copyright, the report singles out Donuts and Radix for their respective “trusted notifier” schemes, which give the movie and music industries a hotline to report large-scale piracy web sites.

These are both well-known EFF positions that the organization has expressed in previous publications.

On the other two issues, the report recommends examining ccTLDs for those which don’t have to kowtow to local government speech regulations or publicly accessible Whois policies.

In each of the four areas of concern, the report suggests taking a look at .onion, while acknowledging that the pseudo-gTLD would be a poor choice if you actually want people to be able to easily access your web site.

While the opinions expressed in the report may not be surprising, the research that has gone into comparing the policies of 40-odd TLD registries covering hundreds of TLDs appears on the face of it to be solid and possibly the report’s biggest draw.

You can read it here (pdf).

Crocker: no date on next new gTLD round

Kevin Murphy, July 27, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN will NOT set a date for the next round of new gTLD applications, despite recent pleas from registry operators.

That’s according to a letter (pdf) from ICANN chair Steve Crocker to the Registries Stakeholder Group published today.

The RySG had asked (pdf) last month for ICANN’s leadership to set a fourth-quarter 2018 deadline for the next application window.

It said that that drawing a line in the sand would allow potential applicants to plan and would prevent current policy-development processes from being abused to delay the next round.

But Crocker says in his letter that it is up to the ICANN community, not its board of directors, to determine if and when a new round should commence. He wrote:

Once the community completes its work, the Board will consider the community’s recommendations to introduce additional new gTLDs. Without the final findings and recommendations from the review and PDP, the Board won’t be able to determine what needs to be done prior to the opening of another application process…

The Registry Stakeholder Group’s letter suggests that by setting a date for the opening of another application process, the Board will provide the community with a target date to work toward. Although the Board setting a date would achieve this, doing so might contravene the multi-stakeholder process that allows for the community to have the necessary discussions to arrive at consensus, and to determine the timing of their own work

It seems this is an instance in which the board does not like the idea of setting policy in a top-down manner.

Crocker said the two remaining gating factors for a next round are the consumer choice and competition review of the first round, which is ongoing, and the GNSO’s New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process (PDP).

The PDP has now been going on for 18 months and yet discussions remain at a very early stage, with hardly any preliminary recommendations being agreed upon.

There’s not even agreement on foundational issues such as whether to carry on dividing the program into discreet application rounds or to start a first-come, first-served process.

The RySG had suggested in its letter that the next window could open after certain threshold issues had been resolved but before all policy work was complete, and that at the very least ICANN staff should get to work on a new version of the Applicant Guidebook while the PDP is still ongoing.

But Crocker again responded that the staff cannot get to work on implementation until the board has considered the community’s final recommendations.

ICANN’s most recent estimates for the opening of the next round would see applications accepted in 2020, eight years after the last round.

Attendance dips for ICANN in Johannesburg

Kevin Murphy, July 25, 2017, Domain Policy

The number of people showing up for ICANN’s latest meeting was down compared to previous meetings, just-released statistics show.

The organization reported today that there were 1,353 attendees at the ICANN 59 meeting in Johannesburg last month, down from 1,436 at the comparable Helsinki meeting a year ago.

It was also down from the 2,089 people attending the Copenhagen meeting in March, but that’s to be expected due to the mid-year meeting having a shorter schedule more tightly focused on policy work.

It also seems to be typical for meetings in Africa to get lower attendance than meetings elsewhere in the world, given the relatively low participation at last year’s Marrakech meeting.

But attendance from the local region spiked again. There were 498 Africans there, 36% of the total. By comparison, just 5% of Copenhagen attendees were African.

This tilted the gender balance towards males, with declared female participation down to 31% from 33% in Copenhagen and 32% in Helsinki.

The number of people attending their first ICANN meeting was 33% of the total. That’s much higher than the 20% reported for Copenhagen. About two thirds of the noobs were from Africa.

These numbers are among the thousands of statistics released in the ICANN 59 roundup today, which for the first time included some eye-opening facts about food and drink consumption at the venue, reproduced here.

If these numbers are correct, there was one waiter or member of service staff for every 2.7 meeting attendees, which strikes me as a weirdly balanced ratio.