ICANN’s board of directors this afternoon approved an anti-harassment policy designed to protect community members from unwanted sexual attention.
It’s the policy inspired by the now infamous Cheesesandwichgate incident at the Marrakech meeting a year ago.
But general counsel John Jeffrey noted that there have been multiple similar complaints to the Ombudsman over the last year or so, possibly as a result of increased awareness that such complaints are possible.
While the text of the resolution has not yet been published, I believe it’s approving a lightly modified version of the policy draft outlined here.
That draft sought to ban activities such as “sexually suggestive touching” and “lewd jokes” at ICANN meetings. A laundry list of characteristics (such as race, gender, disability) were also given special protection.
What’s possibly more interesting than the new policy itself is the manner in which the policy was approved.
It was the first time in goodness knows how many years — definitely over 10, and I’m tempted to say over 15, but nobody seems to know for sure — that the ICANN board has deliberated on a resolution in public.
By “in public” I mean the 30-minute session was live-streamed via Adobe Connect from an undisclosed location somewhere at ICANN 58, here in Copenhagen. An in-person live audience was not possible for logistical reasons, I’m told.
Apart from the first few years of ICANN’s existence, its public board meetings have usually been rubber-stamping sessions at the end of the week-long meeting, based on discussions that had gone on behind closed doors days earlier.
So today’s session was a significant attempt to increase transparency that is likely to be welcomed by many.
Unfortunately, its existence could have been communicated better.
For the first 15 minutes, there were no more than 19 people in the Adobe room, and I believe I may have been the only one who was not ICANN staff or board.
After I tweeted about it, another 10 or so people showed up to listen.
— Kevin Murphy (@DomainIncite) March 11, 2017
Given that increased board transparency is something many sections of the community have been clamoring for for years, one might have expected a bigger turnout.
While the meeting had been prominently announced, it was not listed on the official ICANN 58 schedule, so had failed to make it onto the to-do lists of any of the iCal slaves pottering around the venue.
The session itself came across to me as a genuine discussion — not stage-managed or rehearsed as some had feared.
Directors raised issues such as the possible increased workload on the Ombudsman, the fact that the current Ombudsman (or Ombudsperson, as some directors referred to him) is male, and the availability of female staff members to receive “sensitive” complaints.
Today’s open session is part of a “pilot” and is due to be followed up on Sunday with another, which will discuss ICANN’s fiscal 2018 operating plan and budget.
Again, turning up to watch in person will not be possible, but the 90-minute session will be streamed live at 0745 UTC here.
The first in the pilot program, which even I missed, was in Brussels in September.
Those who sexually harass fellow community members could be banned from ICANN meetings under a policy proposed this week.
The proposal greatly expands upon an earlier version, published for comment in May, which would have banned “unwelcome hostile or intimidating behavior”.
It presents a long list of activities considered harassment, including:
- Sexually suggestive touching
- Grabbing, groping, kissing, fondling, hugging, stroking someone’s hair, or brushing against another’s body
- Touching that the actor may not have intended to be sexually suggestive but which constitutes uninvited touching, such as rubbing or massaging someone’s neck or shoulders
- Violating someone’s “personal space” after being told you are doing so
- Leering, stalking, or suggestive whistling
- Gesturing in a sexually suggestive manner
- Circulating or posting written or graphic materials that show hostility or disrespect toward or that demean individuals because of Specified Characteristics as set forth above
- Lewd or graphic comments or jokes of a sexual nature
We’re unlikely to see new President-Elect Trump keynoting at an ICANN meeting any time soon, in other words.
It’s possible that even referring to his “pussy-grabbing” antics could fall foul of the policy.
Protected “Special Characteristics” would include:
age, ancestry, color, physical or mental disability, genetic information, medical condition (cancer and genetic characteristics), marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex (which includes pregnancy, childbirth, medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, gender, gender identity and gender expression), sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status
Under the proposal (pdf), the ICANN Ombudsman (referred to here, unusually, as the “Ombudsperson”) would have powers to punish those who he determines have been harassing others.
The powers would include:
excusing any individual responsible for inappropriate behavior from further participation in the ICANN process for a specified period of time, limiting the individual’s participation in some manner, and/or requiring satisfaction of prerequisites such as a written apology as a condition of future participation
This would all be in the discretion of the Ombudsman. There would be no requirement for the accuser to provide any corroboration or evidence.
The policy was created following a controversy earlier this year, in which a female ICANN participant accused a male participant of making comments about sandwiches in a way she found “lecherous”.
No wrongdoing was found by the Ombudsman in that case.
The new proposed policy is now open for public comment until January 27.
Photo credit: Michele Neylon