ICANN has blown off US senator Ted Cruz by declining to answer a bunch of framed questions about its engagement with China.
In a letter (pdf) to Cruz and fellow senators Michael Lee and James Lankford, ICANN chair Steve Crocker testily explains that ICANN has offices and relationships all over the world, given the nature of its mandate.
There’s a suggestion that ICANN’s board resents the “insinuation” that talking to China means it’s ready to be captured by it or implement its censorship policies.
ICANN does not endorse the views of any particular stakeholder, regardless of the organization’s engagement efforts, the composition of its advisory committees, and where it holds its meetings. In this sense, ICANN’s engagement with China as a global Internet stakeholder does not suggest any level of support for the nation’s government or its policies. Similarly, no endorsement of such matters could reasonably be inferred from the operations of the United States’ largest technology firms operating in China, including Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Uber. These firms, like ICANN, do not endorse the policies, laws, and regulations of China simply by operating there. As long as the U.S. Government has a policy of engagement with China, U.S. firms operate there without the insinuation that doing so makes them complicit in China’s censorship.
The letter was written in response to a bullet-pointed list of a few dozen question Cruz has posed in letters over the last couple of months.
The Cruz missives were a fairly obvious fishing expedition, with the senators apparently looking for sticks to beat ICANN with in the form of evidence that the organization is too friendly with the dreaded Chinese.
Some on the right wing of American politics seem to see the transition of ICANN/IANA partially away from US government oversight as a wedge issue they can use to show Obama is happily selling the ‘Murican constitution to China.
But Crocker ducks most of Cruz’s questions, preferring instead to present an alternative narrative.
He does not, for example, give answers to simple factual questions related to former CEO Fadi Chehade’s joining as co-chair of a committee of the China-led World Internet Conference.
Instead, he refers Cruz to a previous letter from Chehade, and notes that Chehade is no longer with ICANN.
He does not answer anything related to XYZ.com’s proposals related to selling .xyz domain names in China, which Cruz reckons could be used to censor the people of Hong Kong.
Neither does he confirm that ICANN pays government-affiliated CNNIC for collocated office space in Beijing, which wasn’t disclosed until it came out at a press conference last month.
I imagine Cruz, in receipt of Crocker’s letter, is feeling much the same as I do when an interviewee waffles in response to simple questions.
I doubt this exchange is over.
US presidential wannabe Sen. Ted Cruz has sent ICANN’s chair another nasty letter, demanding to know why he hasn’t yet responded to a laundry list of questions about former CEO Fadi Chehade’s relationship with the Chinese government.
The letter, also signed by fellow Republican senators Mike Lee and James Lankford, expresses “dismay” over the lack of response from Steve Crocker.
Cruz et al have been posing awkward questions to ICANN’s top brass since it emerged in December that Chehade had taken an unpaid position on an internet governance advisory committee run by China.
The senators say they’re worried that the US relinquishing its oversight of the IANA functions will give governments with poor freedom of expression records too much control over the internet.
A more likely explanation is that the IANA transition is an Obama initiative, and if Obama single-handedly saved a bunch of kids from a burning orphanage Cruz & Co would blame him for contributing to over-population.
That’s more or less the sentiment Chehade expressed at ICANN 55 last month, when he said:
And you know that this [Cruz] letter is not driven by anyone really worried about the transition. This is someone really worried about politics. So let’s not bring politics into the transition… Let’s resist bringing the politics of our lovely capital into this process… I think everyone knows this is political, even those in his own party… We will answer all these questions… And we will respond to the questions fully, to the Senators’ full satisfaction.
The new letter calls Chehade out for this statement, saying he “disparaged” what they call an “oversight request”.
An actual Congressional oversight hearing, focusing on the transition, a couple of weeks ago had absolutely no fireworks whatsoever.
It seems that the Republican-led committee actually responsible for internet matters, which does not include Cruz as a member, isn’t particularly upset about the IANA transition.
Nevertheless, the new Cruz letter re-poses a whole list of questions about Chehade’s involvement in China and Crocker and the ICANN board’s response to it.
The questions were originally asked March 3. ICANN had evidently said it would respond by March 18 but has not.
Cruz’s hand in the Republican primaries against front-runner Donald Trump has been strengthened in recent days, increasing the possibility that he could become US president next January.
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.