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Whois working group imploding in GDPR’s wake

Kevin Murphy, May 14, 2018, Domain Policy

An ICANN working group devoted to Whois policy is looking increasingly dead after being trumped by incoming European Union privacy law.

Registration Data Services PDP working group chair Chuck Gomes threw in the towel late last week, resigning from the group shortly after cancelling proposed face-to-face meetings scheduled for the Panama ICANN meeting in June.

That followed his announcement last month that the WG’s teleconferences were to be put on hold while ICANN works out how to respond to the General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into effect May 25, 11 days from now.

The WG had been working on ICANN’s future Whois policy since November 2015 but faced the usual impasses that occur whenever the various sides of the ICANN community face off over privacy.

Gomes, a former Versign executive who retired almost a year ago but stuck around to chair the RDS group, said he’d originally expected its work to wrap up in 2017.

Now, with GDPR rendering much of the discussions moot, there’s a feeling among some WG volunteers that they’ve been wasting their time.

ICANN’s response to GDPR is expected to be an emergency, top-down policy, written by staff and approved by the board, that would stay in place for a year.

The GNSO would then have a year to rally the community, under its own emergency procedures, to make formal policy to replace it for the long term.

There’s an open question about whether the RDS WG could be re-purposed to take on this task, but it’s my sense it’s more likely that a new group would be formed.

It may prove more challenging to recruit volunteers to such a group given the experiences of the RDS crowd.

Gomes, a long-time ICANN veteran and former GNSO Council chair, plans to spend more time travelling around in his RV with his wife. We wish them well.

Van Gelder remembered in GNSO resolution

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2018, Domain Policy

Former GNSO Council chair Stéphane Van Gelder, who died last month, has been remembered in a motion passed by the Council on Friday.

The motion noted that Van Gelder was “a well-respected and much liked” member of the ICANN community, “admired for his passion, his fairness, his ability to find the best in people and his true gift for uniting people.”

It recognizes the “significant contribution” he made to the GNSO, his “genuine passion, energy and commitment” to his role, and concludes by offering “heartfelt sympathies to his family and friends”.

I’m reproducing the whole motion, which was obviously passed unanimously, here:

Whereas:

  1. 1. Stéphane Van Gelder first entered the domain name business in the late 1990s when he founded Indom, a registrar in France, which later become part of the GroupNBT based in the United Kingdom. It was while Stéphane was General manager of INDOM that he was elected to the GNSO Council by the Registrar Stakeholder Group.
  2. 2. Stéphane served on the GNSO Council from 2008 through 2012, as an elected representative of the Registrars Constituency.
  3. 3. Stéphane served as Vice Chair of the GNSO Council in 2010 and was elected and served two consecutive terms as Chair of the GNSO Council in 2011 and 2012.
  4. 4. As Chair of the GNSO Council, Stéphane was an impartial and neutral facilitator on all issues. For Stéphane, remaining neutral was key to ensuring collective dialogue.
  5. 5. Stéphane made significant contributions to ICANN and was a strong and respected community leader. During his tenure as GNSO Chair, Stéphane oversaw and shepherded the:
    1. a. completion of an extensive update of the GNSO’s operating procedures;
    2. b. establishment of the DNS Security & Stability Analysis working group jointly with the ALAC, ccNSO and NRO;
    3. c. completion of the Fast Flux, Post-Expiration Domain Name Recovery and Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy (IRTP) Part B Policy Development Processes (PDPs) and the joint ccNSO-GNSO Internationalized Domain Name working group;
    4. d. launch of the IRTP Part C, Thick WHOIS and Locking of Domain Names subject to Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy Proceedings PDPs; and (e) continuing work on WHOIS studies, registration abuse policies, and multiple other GNSO projects.
    5. e. the completion of the Applicant Guidebook for the 2012 New gTLD Program and the launch of the Program.
    6. f. Stéphane was a well-respected and much liked member of not only the GNSO, but of the broader ICANN Community. He was admired for his passion, his fairness, his ability to find the best in people and his true gift for uniting people.
    7. g. Stéphane’s passing is a great loss to the many people in the ICANN community that had the pleasure to work and interact with him, and for his many friends at ICANN the loss is significant.

Resolved:

  1. 1. The GNSO Council wishes to recognize the significant contribution Stéphane made to the GNSO Council during his tenure and his notable achievements during this time.
  2. 2. Stéphane’s genuine passion, energy and commitment to the Internet and all that it brought to the world was second to none and we will miss him dearly.
  3. 3. On behalf of the current and previous GNSO Councils, we offer our deepest and heartfelt sympathies to his family and friends at this most difficult time.

Van Gelder died after an automobile accident, which also injured his wife, in Switzerland at the end of March.

Now GNSO mulls emergency response to GDPR deadline

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN’s GNSO Council is thinking about deploying a never-before-used emergency mechanism to develop a Whois privacy policy in response to GDPR.

With the May 25 deadline for compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation fast approaching, the community is scrambling to figure out how it can bring ICANN’s policies and therefore its contracts into line with the Draconian privacy provisions of the new law.

Currently, ICANN contracts with registries and registrars demand the publication of full Whois records, something GDPR will not permit, so each company in the industry is busily figuring out how its own Whois database will comply.

Fearful of a “fragmented” Whois, ICANN’s board of directors is considering deploying its own top-down emergency measure — called a Temporary Policy in its contracts — to ensure uniformity across its contracts.

CEO Goran Marby revealed to DI earlier this month that a Temporary Policy was being considered, and he and other members of the board confirmed as much to GNSO leadership during a telephone briefing last week.

(It should be noted that the call took place prior to the receipt last week of guidance from the EU Article 29 Working Party, which prompted ICANN to start mulling legal options as one way to buy the industry some time to comply post-May.)

The call (recorded here with password Eur3wiEK and summarized in this letter (pdf)), focused almost exclusively on how the Council could respond to a board-mandated Temporary Policy, with the board suggesting a GNSO Expedited Policy Development Process might be the best way to proceed.

A Temporary Policy would expire within a year, so the GNSO would have to come up with a formal Consensus Policy within that time-frame if ICANN were to have any hope of having a uniform view of Whois across its contracts.

The Temporary Policy is a “strong option” for the board, and a “highly likely or likely” outcome, but nothing has been formally decided, the GNSO leaders heard from ICANN vice-chair Chris Disspain. He was briefly challenged by Marby, who appeared somewhat more committed to the move.

While the GNSO Council has not yet formally decided to deploy the EPDP, it appears to be the most-feasible option to meet the deadline a Temporary Policy would impose.

It is estimated that an EPDP could take as little as 360 days, compared to the estimated 849 days of a regular PDP.

The EPDP cuts out several of the initial steps of a regular PDP — mainly the need for an Initial Report and associated public comment period — which by my reading would shorten the process by at least 100 days.

It also seems to give the GNSO some wriggle room in how the actual policy creation takes place. It appears that the regular “working group” structure could be replaced, for example, with a “drafting team”.

If the EPDP has the Temporary Policy and WP29 guidance as its baseline for discussions, that could also help cut out some of the circular argument that usually characterizes Whois discussions.

Aware that the EPDP is a strong possibility, the Council is currently planning to give itself a crash course in the process, which has never been used before by any iteration of the Council.

It’s uncharted territory for both the GNSO and the ICANN board, and the only people who seem to have a firm grasp on how the two emergency mechanisms slot together are the ICANN staffers who are paid to know such things.

UPDATE: A couple of hours after this article was published, ICANN posted this three-page flow-chart (pdf) comparing EPDP to PDP. Lots of luck.

Community calls on ICANN to cut staff spending

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN should look internally to cut costs before swinging the scythe at the volunteer community.

That’s a key theme to emerge from many comments filed by the community last week on ICANN’s fiscal 2019 budget, which sees spending on staff increase even as revenue stagnates and cuts are made in other key areas.

ICANN said in January that it would have to cut $5 million from its budget for the year beginning July 1, 2018, largely due to a massive downwards revision in how many new gTLD domains it expects the industry to process.

At the same time, the organization said it will increase its payroll by $7.3 million, up to $76.8 million, with headcount swelling to 425 by the end of the fiscal year and staff receiving on average a 2% pay rise.

In comments filed on the budget, many community members questioned whether this growth can be justified.

Among the most diplomatic objections came from the GNSO Council, which said:

In principle, the GNSO Council believes that growth of staff numbers should only occur under explicit justification and replacements due to staff attrition should always occur with tight scrutiny; especially in times of stagnate funding levels.

The Council added that it is not convinced that the proposed budget funds the policy work it needs to do over the coming year.

The Registrars Stakeholder Group noted the increased headcount with concern and said:

Given the overall industry environment where organizations are being asked to do more with less, we are not convinced these additional positions are needed… The RrSG is not yet calling for cuts to ICANN Staff, we believe the organization should strive to maintain headcount at FY17 Actual year-end levels.

The RrSG shared the GNSO Council’s concern that policy work, ICANN’s raison d’etre, may suffer under the proposed budget.

The At-Large Advisory Committee said it “does not support the direction taken in this budget”, adding:

Specifically we see an increase in staff headcount and personnel costs while services to the community have been brutally cut. ICANN’s credibility rests upon the multistakeholder model, and cuts that jeopardize that model should not be made unless there are no alternatives and without due recognition of the impact.

Staff increases may well be justified, but we must do so we a real regard to costs and benefits, and these must be effectively communicated to the community

ALAC is concerned that the budget appears to cut funding to many projects that see ICANN reach out to, and fund participation by, non-industry potential community members.

Calling for “fiscal prudence”, the Intellectual Property Constituency said it “encourages ICANN to take a hard look at personnel costs and the use of outside professional services consultants.”

The IPC is also worried that ICANN may have underestimated the costs of its contractual compliance programs.

The Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group had some strong words:

The organisation’s headcount, and personnel costs, cannot continue to grow. We feel strongly that the proposal to grow headcount by 25 [Full-Time Employees] to 425 FTE in a year where revenue has stagnated cannot be justified.

With 73% of the overall budget now being spent on staff and professional services, there is an urgent need to see this spend decrease over time… there is a need to stop the growth in the size of the staff, and to review staff salaries, bonuses, and fringe benefits.

NCSG added that ICANN could perhaps reduce costs by relocating some positions from its high-cost Los Angeles headquarters to the “global south”, where the cost of living is more modest.

The ccNSO Strategic and Operational Planning Standing Committee was the only commentator, that I could find, to straight-up call for a freeze in staff pay rises. While also suggesting moving staff to less costly parts of the globe, it said:

The SOPC – as well as many other community stakeholders – seem to agree that ICANN staff are paid well enough, and sometimes even above market average. Considering the current DNS industry trends and forecasts, tougher action to further limit or even abolish the annual rise in compensation would send a strong positive signal to the community.

It’s been suggested that, when asked to find areas to cut, ICANN department heads prioritized retaining their own staff, which is why we’re seeing mainly cuts to community funding.

I’ve only summarized the comments filed by formal ICANN structures here. Other individuals and organizations filing comments in their own capacity expressed similar views.

I was unable to find a comment explicitly supporting increased staffing costs. Some groups, such as the Registries Stakeholder Group, did not address the issue directly.

While each commentator has their own reasons for wanting to protect the corner of the budget they tap into most often, it’s a rare moment when every segment of the community (commercial and non-commercial, domain industry and IP interests) seem to be on pretty much the same page on an issue.

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.