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ICANN attendance shrank in Denmark

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2017, Domain Policy

Attendance at ICANN’s recent meeting in Copenhagen was down about 8% on the comparable meeting a year earlier in Marrakech, according to ICANN statistics.

There were 2,089 at the Denmark meeting, down from 2,273 reported a year ago in Morocco.

The decline appears to be largely a result of relatively lower local participation. Africa is usually under-represented at ICANN meetings, but there was a surge in Marrakech, with almost 956 attendees hailing from the continent.

About half of Copenhagen participants — 1,012 people, of which 417 were first-timers — were European.

The number of remote participation attendees was much higher in Copenhagen. ICANN counted 4,428 unique users logging into Adobe Connect meeting rooms, compared to 3,458 in Marrakech.

Both Copenhagen and Marrakech, ICANNs 55 and 58, are designated as “community forums”, meaning they follow the traditional ICANN schedule. ICANN 56 was a shorter, policy-focused meeting and ICANN 57 was a longer meeting with a focus on outreach.

The stats for Copenhagen can be downloaded here (pdf).

How many elephants did ICANN send to Helsinki?

Kevin Murphy, July 18, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN ships a quite staggering amount of equipment to its thrice-yearly public meetings, equivalent to more than 12 mid-sized cars at the recent Helsinki meeting.

That’s one of the interesting data points in ICANN’s just published “Technical Report” — a 49-page data dump — for ICANN 56.

It’s the second meeting in a row the organization has published such a report, the first for a so-called “Meeting B” or “Policy Forum” which run on a reduced-formality, more focused schedule.

The Helsinki report reveals that 1,436 people showed up in person, compared to 2,273 for March’s Marrakech meeting, which had a normal ICANN meeting agenda.

The attendees were 61% male and 32% female. Another 7% did not disclose their gender. No comparable numbers were published in the Marrakech report.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the Helsinki numbers show not a terrible gender balance as far as tech conferences go. It’s a bit better than you’d expect from anecdotal evidence.

Not many big tech events publish their male/female attendee ratios, but Google has said attendees at this year’s Google IO were 23% female.

Europeans accounted for most of the Helsinki attendees, as you might expect, at 43%. That compared to 20% in Marrakech.

The next largest geographic contingent came from North America — 27%, compared to just 18% in Marrakech.

The big surprise to me is how much equipment ICANN ships out to each of its meetings.

In March, it moved 93 metric tonnes (103 American tons) of kit to Marrakech. About 19 metric tonnes of that was ICANN-owned gear, the rest was hired. That weighs as much as 3.5 African elephants, the report says.

For Helsinki, that was up to 19.7 metric tonnes, more than 12 cars’ worth. Shipped equipment includes stuff like 412 microphones, 73 laptops and 28 printers.

In both reports, ICANN explains the shipments like this:

Much like a touring band, ICANN learned over time that the most cost-effective method of ensuring that meeting participants have a positive experience is to sea freight our own equipment to ICANN meetings. We ship critical equipment, then rent the remaining equipment locally to help promote the economy.

Rock on.

The Helsinki report, which reveals more data than anyone could possibly find useful, can be downloaded as a PDF here.

“Cheese sandwich” comment blamed for sexual harassment complaint

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN’s first formal case of sexual harassment has been closed with no official finding by the Ombudsman.

Ombudsman Chris LaHatte today said he was unable to establish the facts of the alleged incident, which is said to have taken place during a coffee break at the ICANN 55 meeting in Marrkech, March 6.

LaHatte said that the complainant’s decision to publicly name the man she says harassed her had “compromised” his investigation and that the alleged actions of the man “cannot be considered serious”.

It also emerged publicly for the first time that the interaction that led to the complaint was a brief conversation about sandwiches.

LaHatte’s report on the incident says:

The allegation was that she had a relatively brief discussion with a man, which she found derogatory and which she considered was sexual harassment. The description was that he leaned towards her and took her ICANN identification tag. There was a general discussion about the food, and she said that he made the comment, “you can go make me a cheese sandwich”

But the complainant told DI a slightly different version of events that she said is more accurate:

[The man] approached me, pulled at my name tag, examined it and dropped it. A little later, he lifted my name tag and flipped it back and forth, asking me “Where are you from?”, leaned in, lecherously looked at me and then said, “do you know how to make a cheese sandwich?” I was taken aback and responded angrily with “Yes, that is why I came here, to make you cheese sandwiches.” He went on to throw another lecherous look my way and said, “Well, I love veg sandwiches.”

According to LaHatte, the man in question flatly denies that the incident even took place.

The complainant says the incident can be defined as sexual harassment under the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Indian law (she is Indian), and the ICANN corporate policy against sexual harassment among its staff.

Neither party is a member of ICANN staff.

LaHatte says in his report that he has not considered jurisdiction or matters of definition, given that he was unable to even establish the facts of the incident.

In this complaint, the matters alleged cannot be considered serious by any standard. If in fact the action and statement were made, it may have been a lapse of good manners and insensitive to gender. Such issues need to be taken in proportion, and best practice is not to debate this in a public forum where the issues are not yet clear…

However any chance of discussing the comments has been compromised by the decision to identify the other party before my investigation could be completed, and for the parties to have had a full opportunity to consider the alternative versions. The other party has been publically named without an opportunity to make any comment or denial of the incident. It is also part of my role as the ombudsman to ensure that standards of procedural fairness are met, and the premature publication regrettably does not meet the standards of natural justice, because the parties have a right to be heard before this occurred.

LaHatte names the complainant (who waived her right to confidentiality) but not the man (who didn’t) in his report.

The man has apparently considered legal action over his public naming.

Man in sexual harassment claim considers legal action

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2016, Domain Policy

The man accused of sexual harassment at an ICANN meeting is considering legal action for defamation.

He’s also filed a counter-complaint with ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, after his accuser named him on a public mailing list.

That’s according to emails from LaHatte, screen-captured and posted to social media by the woman making the accusations.

LaHatte had previously told the woman that the man could not recall the alleged incident, said to have taken place during ICANN 55 in Marrakech a couple of weeks ago.

The woman says her name tag — at ICANN meetings a rectangle of plastic hanging loosely around the neck on a strap — was “pulled at” while the man made “inappropriate remarks”.

The content of the alleged remarks has not yet been disclosed.

She published her Ombudsman complaint — which names the man — to a public mailing list late last week.

In the new email, LaHatte tells her that naming the man publicly has complicated matters.

The investigation now becomes very difficult. Indeed, he has complained about the naming as being unfair and asked me to undertake a complaint investigation about your action.

The man was entitled to a “fair and impartial investigation”, he said, but “his privacy has been compromised”.

I have been waiting for a response from you about his reaction to the allegations. So he has now complained that he has been named before he had a chance for your response to be considered by me, and for any analysis and report. This is a matter of procedural fairness, and in my view he should have had the opportunity to have your reply. He is therefore considering his response which may include litigation unfortunately.

The complainant says she wants ICANN to create a sexual harassment policy for its participants — she was already talking to LaHatte about this before the alleged incident.

ICANN’s board of directors said in Marrakech it had instructed staff to look into the possibility of such a policy.

Debate as accuser names “sexual harasser”

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2016, Domain Policy

The woman who says she was sexually harassed at the ICANN meeting in Marrakech earlier this month has controversially named the alleged perpetrator on a public mailing list.

She’s also publicly released documents exchanged between herself and the ICANN Ombudsman, with whom she has made a formal complaint.

According to her complaint the man, a longstanding and often vocal member of the ICANN community “approached me, pulled at my name tag, and passed inappropriate remarks.”

“I felt like my space and safety as a young woman in the ICANN community was at stake,” the complaint says.

No allegations of physical contact have been made, and the content of the “inappropriate remarks” has not been disclosed.

I’m not going to name either party here. They’re “the man” and “the woman” for now.

The woman has said on the mailing list in question that she’s waived her right to confidentiality.

I contacted the man for comment at the weekend and have not yet received a reply.

An email from Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, released by the woman, shows that he has spoken to the man.

The man said he could not recall the incident and LaHatte declined to tell him who his accuser was, for confidentiality reasons, the email says.

The release of the documents has sparked discussion on the mailing list and social media about whether publicly naming the man was the most appropriate course of action.

Inevitably, there’s also been some discussion about what constitutes sexual harassment.

The woman said she had already been engaged with LaHatte about the possibility of ICANN creating a sexual harassment policy, and that “this incident pushed me to take forward what had hitherto been a mere academic interest with increased vigour”.

She said in a released email predating Marrakech that during ICANN 54 last year, her first ICANN meeting, “I personally felt as though a few inappropriate remarks were made by certain male co attendees”.

When the woman initially made her allegations at the ICANN public forum, ICANN director Markus Kummer said the board had asked ICANN staff to look at possibly adjusting the longstanding Expected Standards Of Behavior to more specifically address sexual harassment.

“We clearly do not condone improper conduct of any kind such as harassment or otherwise and there should be zero tolerance for it within the community,” he said during the public forum.

Helsinki tipped as next ICANN venue

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN is expected to be heading to Helsinki, Finland, for its next meeting.

Director Chris Disspain dropped the name of the host city during a session at the ICANN 55 meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, today.

Apparently it’s common knowledge among attendees that the Finnish capital is being lined up as a replacement for the original ICANN 56 venue, Panama City.

Panama was cancelled due to fears about the baby-deforming Zika virus, which is running rampant in South and Central America right now.

There’s no word yet on whether ICANN 57, currently planned for San Juan, Puerto Rico in October, is going ahead.

Puerto Rico is reportedly having its own Zika problems right now.

ICANN 56 is scheduled to kick off June 27 this year. Helsinki is expected to be confirmed by the ICANN board in a resolution tomorrow.

ICANN receives first sexual harassment complaint

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2016, Domain Policy

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.

Governments still split on ICANN accountability plan, but will not block it

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2016, Domain Policy

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.

Governments split on IANA transition

Kevin Murphy, March 7, 2016, Domain Policy

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.