ICANN’s Ombudsman has received what is thought to be the first complaint of sexual harassment at an ICANN meeting.
The allegation emerged during a meeting between non-commercial stakeholders and the ICANN board of directors yesterday.
During its sessions with constituency groups yesterday, the ICANN board had pushed participants for their views on geographic and gender diversity in the ICANN community.
“Two days ago I was sexually harassed at this meeting,” the complainant, who I’m not going to name here, told the board.
She said she discovered the best way to address her grievance was by reporting it to the ICANN Ombudsman.
“I was amazed that the Ombudsman told me that I was the first registered complaint of sexual harassment in the history of ICANN,” she said.
No details of the incident or alleged perpetrator were given.
The complainant said that ICANN should have a policy in place to deal with such behavior.
The organization has written expected standards of behavior, but they don’t specifically cover harassment.
While I’m aware of multiple incidents of women feeling sexually harassed at ICANN meetings — even witnessed a couple first-hand — this is the first time I’ve heard about a formal complaint being made.
A few years ago, the Ombudsman stepped in quickly to resolve an issue of sexist paraphernalia at a exhibitor’s booth, but that complaint was made by a man and did not amount to “harassment” as such.
The Governmental Advisory Committee failed to reach consensus on proposals to improve ICANN’s accountability, but has raised “no objection” to them going ahead as planned.
After burning the midnight oil in a tense series of meetings at ICANN 55 in Marrakech last night, the GAC finally agreed to the text of a letter that essentially approves the recommendations of a cross-community accountability working group.
The GAC said, in a letter (pdf) to leaders of the so-called CCWG:
While there are delegations that have expressed support for the proposal, there are other delegations that were not in a position to endorse the proposal as a whole.
In spite of this difference of opinions, the GAC has no objection to the transmission of the proposal to the ICANN Board.
This means that one of the barriers to accountability reform, which is inextricably linked to IANA’s transition away from US government oversight, has been lowered.
The GAC said it could not by consensus endorse the full suite of proposals, however.
The main sticking point was the CCWG’s recommendation 11, which essentially enshrines the GAC’s consensus-based decision-making rules in the ICANN bylaws.
A handful of governments — a bloc of South American nations, plus France and Portugal — are still not happy about this.
There is “no consensus” from the GAC on Recommendation 11, the GAC said.
There is also no consensus on the so-called “GAC carve-out” in Recommendations 1 and 2, which would limit the GAC’s ability to challenge ICANN board decisions alongside the rest of the community.
The accountability plan still needs to be formally endorsed by a couple more ICANN community groups, before it is submitted to the ICANN board for approval, which is expected to happen over the next 48 hours.
ICANN chair Steve Crocker has denied that outgoing CEO Fadi Chehade has a conflict of interest with the Chinese government, after US Senator Ted Cruz pressed him for more details on Chehade’s extra-curricular activities in the country.
“There’s no money involved, so there’s no conflict of interest involved at all,” Crocker said at a press conference, in response to a DI question, at ICANN 55 in Marrakech today.
I put the question because presidential hopeful Cruz, along with fellow senators James Lankford and Michael Lee, said in a letter last Thursday (pdf) that Chehade has a “confirmed personal conflict of interest” when it comes to the Chinese government.
That appears to be based on his admission, in a letter to Cruz et al last month, that his travel expenses to the World Internet Conference (aka, the Wuzhen Summit), where he’s agreed to be co-chair of an advisory committee after he leaves ICANN, would probably be picked up by the Chinese government.
According to Cruz, Chehade is in the pocket of the Chinese government because he has accepted or will accept flight-plus-hotel expenses to a Chinese conference, which could distract him from his $900,000-a-year ICANN salary.
Cruz’s most recent letter seeks further information about Chehade’s involvement with Wuzhen and the ICANN board’s response when they found out about it.
It appears to be basically an effort to get as much evidence as possible to support the ludicrous Republican claim that the IANA transition process initiated by the Obama administration risks handing control over internet censorship to the Chinese.
This, while some governments are complaining that the community-drafted IANA transition proposals actually weaken the hand of governments.
“There’s much less there than people are making an issue of, so there’s just no problem from our point of view,” Crocker said at the press conference.
“There are several degrees of separation between matters at ICANN and involvement with the Chinese government,” Crocker said. “[Wuzhen is] not controlled by the Chinese government and it’s intended to facilitate bringing in people from all over the world, it’s a matter of inclusion rather than exclusion.”
While Cruz asks quite a lot in his latest letter, one of the questions that leaped out at me claimed that ICANN does not publish the address of its Beijing office on its web site.
All the other local “Engagement Centers” have physical addresses listed, but not the Chinese one, Cruz said.
It turns out he’s correct.
I asked at the press conference why the address was not published on the ICANN web site and whether Cruz was correct to infer that ICANN is based in the same office as CNNIC, the government-controlled .cn ccTLD registry.
Chehade replied: “As I’m sure you’ve read in our press releases when we opened that office, that office was opened with a very clear press release by us and one by CNNIC indicating that our office would be collocated with CNNIC. So there’s nothing new here.”
He thanked Cruz for pointing out the omission on the ICANN web site and said it would be corrected.
He said that it’s ICANN’s habit to collocate engagement centers with local players, and that Beijing was nothing different. ICANN pays CNNIC for the collocation, he said.
Looking at the ICANN press release (pdf) announcing the Beijing office opening, back in 2013, it seems Chehade was incorrect, however. The press release makes no mention of CNNIC hosting the new ICANN engagement center. It does not mention CNNIC at all.
CNNIC did at the time state in its own press release, in a roundabout way, that ICANN Beijing would be sharing its office.
I also asked whether the outcome of the US presidential election would have a direct bearing on whether ICANN is able to execute the IANA transition. Would the transition happen if Cruz gets elected president of the USA in November?
Crocker gamely waffled for a couple of minutes but didn’t confirm what many take as a given: that Obama initiatives such as the IANA transition are likely to be at risk of a scuppering should a Republican, particularly Cruz, enters the White House.
“As an American I have to say this is one of the most interesting and unpredictable presidential election processes we’ve ever seen,” Crocker said, “but as chairman of the board of ICANN I hope it has no relationship at all to a process that was started in principle when ICANN was initiated in 1998.”
ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee is unlikely to provide its full backing to accountability proposals supporting the IANA transition.
In meetings at ICANN 55 in Marrkech over the weekend, a handful of GAC delegates publicly stated that they would block consensus over concerns the proposals reduce government power in ICANN.
The most vocal opposition came from Brazil, but it was backed up by the countries including Peru and Russia.
The proposals currently up for debate would make it harder for the ICANN board to disagree with consensus GAC advice, but it clarifies that non-consensus advice does not carry the same weight.
Currently, the ICANN board can reject GAC advice by a simple majority vote, but doing so kick-starts a bilateral negotiation process where the board and GAC have to try to resolve their differences.
The new accountability proposals would raise the threshold to 60% of the board, and the negotiations would only have to take place if the advice carried the full consensus of the GAC.
Under the GAC’s current operating rules, consensus means no one government formally objected to the advice. The accountability proposals would enshrine that definition in the ICANN bylaws.
The proposal was drafted like this to handle what is known as “Stress Test 18” — a scenario in which the GAC switched its decision-making mechanism to a simple majority vote, enabling it to more easily issue potentially more extreme advice.
Brazil finds the whole idea of Stress Test 18 “insulting”. Its delegate told the GAC yesterday:
We consider Stress Test 18 unacceptable. We have said this from the beginning. We think this contaminates the full proposal. I think there are many positive aspects in the proposal coming forward that we could accept, that we could support… I think this compounds a very ugly picture in which it is very clear that the real intent was to circumvent the possibility of governments having meaningful participation unless there is full consensus among its members.
Brazil was one of nine governments to put its name to a letter (pdf) last month criticizing the post-transition accountability proposals.
The letter points out that the current definition of GAC consensus would allow a single government to block consensus, even in the face of overwhelming support from other governments, simply by formally objecting.
This could lead to GAC “paralysis”, the letter stated.
Indeed, we saw something like this a couple of years ago when the US blocked GAC advice against the .amazon gTLD, before eventually withdrawing its objection.
Once it became clear yesterday that the GAC might not be able to provide full consensus on the accountability proposals, some GAC delegates worried aloud about what kind of message that would send to the rest of the world.
The proposals are inextricably linked to the IANA transition, which would see ICANN management of the DNS root zone become independent from US government oversight for the first time.
Some on the hard right of US politics, such as presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, are convinced that the transition will allow China to start censoring the internet.
Amazon has appealed the rejection of its proposed .amazon new gTLD.
The company this week told ICANN that it has invoked the Independent Review Process, after 18 months of informal negotiations proved fruitless.
Amazon’s .amazon application was controversially rejected by ICANN in May 2014, due to advice from the Governmental Advisory Committee.
The GAC, by a consensus, had told ICANN that .amazon should be rejected.
South American nations that share the Amazonia region of the continent had said the string was “geographic” and should therefore be unavailable to the US-based company.
The word “Amazon” is not protected by ICANN’s geographic string rules, because “Amazon” is not the name of a region, and was only rejected due to governmental interference.
The GAC’s decision came only after the US, which had been preventing consensus in order to protect one of its biggest native internet companies, decided to step aside.
Amazon has been in ICANN’s Cooperative Engagement Process — an informal set of talks designed to avoid the need for too many lawyers — since July 2014.
Those talks have now ended and Amazon has told ICANN that an IRP is incoming, according to ICANN documentation published on Tuesday (pdf).
The IRP documents themselves have not yet been published by ICANN.
UPDATE: This article originally incorrectly stated that the US withdrew its objection to the GAC consensus on .amazon after the IANA transition was announced. In fact, it did so several months prior to that announcement.