Apparently there wasn’t already enough confusion about ICANN’s role in internet governance.
ICANN’s independent Ombudsman, Chris LaHatte, seems to be getting involved in content-related arguments between netizens and web site operators, according to a new case report posted on his blog.
LaHatte recently received a complaint from an internet user about the web site Busted Mugshots, a search engine for US criminal records.
The complainant was a professional who in his younger days had been pulled over for drink-driving and photographed by police, but never charged or convicted of any offense.
Busted Mugshots had apparently tried to charge him a fee and demanded to see non-existent court acquittal documents in order to remove his photograph from the site.
I’m assuming the individual in question complained to the Ombudsman because he has no idea what powers ICANN has or what the ICANN Ombudsman’s role is.
ICANN, for avoidance of doubt, has no powers over the content of web sites, and the Ombudsman’s job is to investigate complaints about ICANN’s actions or decisions.
Yet LaHatte, perplexingly, got involved anyway.
According to his case notes he contacted Busted Mugshots to point out that it was very unfair to keep the complainant’s photo up, but met with the same response as the complainant.
I’ve no doubt that LaHatte’s heart was in the right place here, and he says he pointed out at all times that he has no jurisdiction over web content, but I can’t help but worry that this doesn’t help ICANN’s image.
You only need to lurk on a Twitter search for “icann” for a day or two — or read some non-industry media coverage for that matter — to know that lots of people out there don’t know what ICANN does.
Many regular internet users mistakenly believe the organization is the internet’s government or police force, and ICANN has done a pretty poor job over the years of correcting misconceptions.
While I’m sure no one would challenge LaHatte’s right to complain about the contents of web sites as a private citizen, I don’t think the Ombudsman should be seen to be involving himself in this kind of dispute.