ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade yesterday called for an end to “speculation” about plans to move the organization’s headquarters out of US jurisdiction to Geneva, Switzerland.
Responding to a reporter’s question during a panel discussion at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC, Chehade said:
I did not say that I’m moving ICANN to Geneva. This is speculation because we opened an office in Geneva… People conflate things because they’d like to. If you can find a statement saying we’re moving to Geneva I’d like to see it.
I can’t even make that decision. I told you, I can’t even change the coffee, so the board will have to make this decision and the board can’t make this decision without community agreement. And do you think our community will agree to move thousands of contracts we have today that are working marvelously in California to another place? Why would we do that? So let’s stop the speculation on this, I have no plans to move ICANN to Geneva. We have an office in Geneva, that’s the end of it.
The speculation, which DI indulged in following a Swiss newspaper report in February, was not of course only rooted in the fact that ICANN had opened an office in Geneva.
On February 17, ICANN’s board of directors approved the creation of several “President’s Globalization Advisory Groups”, one of which was tasked with looking at ways to:
Establish complementary parallel international structure to enhance ICANN’s global legitimacy. Consider complementary parallel international structure within scope of ICANN’s mandate.
That seemed to indicate pretty clearly that ICANN was looking outside of the US for a “parallel international structure”. Geneva, home of many international organizations, seemed like a prime candidate.
However, just six weeks later, March 27, ICANN’s board dissolved these committees, stating that they were no longer needed in light of the process to transition stewardship of the DNS root away from the US government.
Chehade’s statement, coupled with the board’s resolution, means Geneva appears to be off the cards for now.
Another bill has been introduced into the US Congress related to the IANA transition process, and this one would actually be dangerous if passed.
Rep Mike Kelly introduced the Internet Stewardship Act (pdf) to make the IANA transition a matter that requires Congressional legislation.
The press release announcing the bill is longer than the bill itself, which says just this:
NTIA PROHIBITED FROM RELINQUISHING DNS RESPONSIBILITIES.
The Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information may not relinquish or agree to relinquish the responsibilities of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration with respect to Internet domain name functions, including responsibility with respect to the authoritative root zone file, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions, or the related root zone management functions, unless such relinquishment is permitted by a statute enacted after the date of the enactment of this Act.
In other words, if this bill is enacted then another bill would be required in order for the NTIA to remove itself from root zone oversight.
Try to imagine a bill relinquishing control over the “critical internet functions” getting majority support in any national legislature.
Try to imagine it getting support in a national legislature that has more than its fair share of flag-waving nationalists and gung-ho xenophobes.
Try to imagine the Republican party in Congress allowing the Obama administration, which it despises, to ‘give away the internet’ to Vladimir Putin and theocratic Arab states, which is what a lot of commentators irrationally seem to think is happening.
It Kelly’s bill is passed, ICANN may as well kiss goodbye to ideas of independence from US oversight for the foreseeable future.
Fortunately, the bill is just a bill right now.
A Congressional hearing yesterday addressed fears that the decision to cut ICANN loose from US governmental oversight would lead to the internet being seized by backwards regimes.
Long-term DI readers may recall that I’m usually quite snarky whenever a Congressional subcommittee convenes to pretend to be interested in ICANN — with the reason that they usually talk a lot of nonsense.
But this time the majority of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology seemed genuinely interested, surprisingly clueful, and relatively low on hyperbolic fearmongering.
The hearing was arranged due to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s March 14 decision to remove itself from the DNS root zone management triumvirate.
Whole cartloads of horse pucky have been wheeled out in response, exemplified by breathless editorials about how the world’s most repressive governments will immediately step in to fill the NTIA-shaped void.
It’s Obama’s policy of “appeasement”, designed to allow a shirtless Vladimir Putin to drive a tank directly into the root zone file, if you believe right-leaning American commentators.
There was some of that in yesterday’s hearing, but it was overshadowed by a discussion that seemed to be more interested in addressing genuine concerns and clearing up misconceptions.
Basically, Congressmen are afraid that if the NTIA leaves its role as steward of the DNS root zone, that will somehow lead to other governments taking over and internet freedoms being diminished.
How that fear manifested itself on the committee ranged from thoughtful and understandable expressions of concern and caution to wild-eyed, nonsensical, Putin-obsessed ranting.
It was the job of witnesses Larry Stricking of the NTIA, Fadi Chehade of ICANN and Ambassador David Gross, formerly of the Department of State, to reassure Congress that everything is going to be okay.
Rep. Scalise thinks Putin is magic
At the risk of being accused of sensationalism, I’m starting with the nut-job, but only to illustrate the misinformation ICANN and the NTIA have been dealing with for the last few weeks.
In a way, Rep. Steve Scalise’s portion of the hearing’s Q&A section is a microcosm of the dialogue that has been playing out in the media since the NTIA announcement.
Scalise was the guy on the committee who seems to believe that Russia and China possess the supernatural powers necessary to “take over the internet”. Red Magic, perhaps.
Here’s an exchange with Strickling and Chehade, which began when Scalise asked the panel to address concerns about authoritarian regimes taking over the internet:
STRICKLING: We won’t let that happen, number one.
SCALISE: What’s an assurance of that? It’s good to say we won’t let that happen, it’s nice to hear it, but nobody knows what’s gong to happen. You can’t tell me what’s going to happen. How do you know you won’t let it happen?
STRICKLING: I’m saying that we will not accept a proposal that has that as its outcome. Period. End of story. So it won’t happen. Second, nobody has yet explained to me the mechanism by which any of these individual governments could somehow seize control over the internet as a whole—
SCALISE: You really don’t think that Russia… Look, Russia and China have made it very clear what they want to do to suppress internet freedom. They’ve made it very clear—
STRICKLING: And they do it within their own countries—
SCALISE: At the end of the day y’all are going to come up with some sort of process if you’re going to transfer away, and I say IF — capital I, capital F — if you transfer it away you will come up with some sort of process. Do you really not thnk that Vladimir Putin, with all the other things he’s busy with right now, ain’t going to try to figure out some way to get control? It won’t be through the Russian government directly necessarily, but China and Russia have proven very resourceful at trying to figure out what that process so that they can manipulate it. You can do all the things you want to stop that from happening but at end of the day it comes out to where those countries have figured out a way, like they’ve figured out a lot of other ways too, to do something subversive that goes against all the intentions that we have. You can’t stop that.
STRICKLING: Well, Congressman, what do you think they could do that they can’t do today?
SCALISE: What do you really think…? Look at what Putin’s doing right now! The President just doesn’t seem to take this seriously what he’s doing through Eastern Europe. He’s trying to rebuild, get the old band back together, get the Soviet Union back together, right now before our very eyes. Secretary of State Kerry says the international community won’t accept this. They’re doing it! They don’t care what the international community thinks. They’re invading a country. So what would they do to get control of the internet if you threw something out there? These are real concerns that are being expressed. The other two panelists can touch on this as well.
CHEHADE: Thank you, Congressman. Let me be clear that at ICANN it is impossible for them today to do so. They’ve been trying for 15 years—
SCALISE: Exactly! Which is why it’s working.
CHEHADE: But it’s not because the US actually has the current stewardship role, it’s because of the multistakeholder model. It stops them. Where they will try to do what you’re suggesting is in the international intergovernmental organizations. They’ve been trying to do that there. We want to take away from them any argument that they still go to the UN and try to take over what ICANN does, by making sure that ICANN is free of one government control. To show them that ICANN believes in the multistakeholder model and this great country that created that model trusts it.
Chehade 1 – Scalise 0.
But did Scalise have a point, even accidentally? I’m going to cover that question in a separate post.
Rep Shimkus really wants you to support his bill
A recurring theme of the hearing was the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act, introduced by Rep. John Shimkus and others last week.
I called the bill “pointless” when it emerged, as all it does is delay any transition for a year until the US General Accounting Office has conducted a study of the ramifications.
But there’s also a feeling that the Act would be a distraction at best and may cast more uncertainty than is necessary over the transition process at a critical time for internet governance.
Both Strickling and Chehade prevaricated when Shimkus asked them outright, repeatedly, if they were opposed to the GAO review.
Strickling said he “neither or supports or opposes” such a review but said he was “in favor of full discussion of these issues”.
Chehade, seemingly reluctant to tie himself to a one-government review said he did not have a view, but that he committed to full transparency in the issue.
The fact that Chehade had said that there was “no rush” to conclude the transition process was later used by Shimkus as a gotcha, when he pointed out that the Act’s one-year delay would not have an impact.
On a second panel, Carolina Rossini of the Internet Governance and Human Rights Program of the New American Foundation, gave perhaps a fuller explanation of why there’s caution about the bill.
My concern is that if we wait one year, if we block the transition now and wait one year until we have a report, that is the risk. And that’s the risk that we have non-democratic governments to actually make their voices even louder and manipulate the narrative both in NetMundial and in the [ITU] plenipot in November.
Shimkus said he’d concluded that Chehade and Strickling has “in essence supported the bill”, which I don’t think was necessarily a fair interpretation of what they said.
The two-and-a-half hour hearing had a couple of other diversions — Rep Blackburn going off on a crazy tangent about net neutrality and Rep Latta wasting everyone’s time to score points on behalf of a constituent, a .med gTLD applicant — but otherwise it was generally sane stuff.
The committee seemed to be fairly well-briefed on the subject before them. Most of the Congressmen expressed their concerns about the transition in sensible terms and seemed to take the answers on board.
Special recognition should also be given to Chehade, who won the slightly condescending praise and admiration of some of the committee when he choked up on an abridged version of his immigrant origin story.
He has an uncanny ability to speak to his audience at every occasion and he put it to excellent use yesterday.
“Tens of thousands” of web sites are going dark due to ICANN’s new email verification requirements and registrars are demanding to know how this sacrifice is helping solve crimes.
These claims and demands were made in meetings between registrars and ICANN’s board and management at the ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore last week.
Go Daddy director of policy planning James Bladel and Tucows CEO Elliot Noss questioned the benefit of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement during a Tuesday session.
The 2013 RAA requires registrars to verify that registrants’ email addresses are accurate. If registrants do not respond to verification emails within 15 days, their domains are turned off.
There have been many news stories and blog posts recounting how legitimate webmasters found their sites gone dark due to an overlooked verification email.
Just looking at my Twitter stream for an “icann” search, I see several complaints about the process every week, made by registrants whose web sites and email accounts have disappeared.
Noss told the ICANN board that the requirement has created a “demonstrable burden” for registrants.
“If you cared to hear operationally you would hear about tens and hundreds of thousands of terrible stories that are happening to legitimate businesses and individuals,” he said.
Noss told DI today that Tucows is currently compiling some statistics to illustrate the scale of the problem, but it’s not yet clear what the company plans to do with the data.
At the Singapore meeting, he asked ICANN to go to the law enforcement agencies that demanded Whois verification in the first place to ask for data showing that the new rules are also doing some good.
“What crime has been forestalled?” he said. “What issues around fraud? We heard about pedophilia regularly from law enforcement. What has any of this done to create benefits in that direction?”
Registrars have a renewed concern about this now because there are moves afoot in other fora, such as the group working on new rules for privacy and proxy services, for even greater Whois verification.
Bladel pointed to an exchange at the ICANN meeting in Durban last July, during which ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade suggested that ICANN would not entertain requests for more Whois verification until law enforcement had demonstrated that the 2013 RAA requirements had had benefits.
The exact Chehade line, from the Durban public forum transcript, was:
law enforcement, before they ask for more, we put them on notice that they need to tell us what was the impact of what we did for them already, which had costs on the implementers.
Quoted back to himself, in Singapore Chehade told Bladel: “It will be done by London.”
Speaking at greater length, director Mike Silber said:
What I cannot do is force law enforcement to give us anything. But I think what we can do is press the point home with law enforcement that if they want more, and if they want greater compliance and if they want greater collaborations, it would be very useful to show the people going through the exercise what benefits law enforcement are receiving from it.
So will law enforcement agencies be able to come up with any hard data by London, just a few months from now?
It seems unlikely to me. The 2013 RAA requirements only came into force in January, so the impact on the overall cleanliness of the various Whois databases is likely to be slim so far.
I also wonder whether law enforcement agencies track the accuracy of Whois in any meaningfully quantitative way. Anecdotes and color may not cut the mustard.
But it does seem likely that the registrars are going to have data to back up their side of the argument — customer service logs, verification email response rates and so forth — by London.
They want the 2013 RAA Whois verification rules rethought and removed from the contract and the ICANN board so far seems fairly responsive to their concerns.
Law enforcement may be about to find itself on the back foot in this long-running debate.
The number of live top-level domains on the internet has surpassed 500 for the first time.
The delegation yesterday of 12 new gTLDs — .archi, .consulting, .cooking, .country, .fishing, .haus, .商城, .horse, .miami, .rodeo, .vegas and .vodka — tipped the total TLD count to 507.
For the numbers geeks, here are some stats from the DI PRO database:
- 285 ccTLDs
- 222 gTLDs
- 60 IDN TLDs
- 24 IDN gTLDs
- 199 gTLDs delegated in the 2012 round
- 15 gTLDs delegated in previous rounds
- 8 legacy gTLDs
- 129 new gTLDs have started Sunrise periods
- 65 new gTLDs have started Trademark Claims periods
- 367 new gTLDs have ICANN contracts
- 1 new gTLD application is still in Initial Evaluation
- 6 new gTLD applications are still in Extended Evaluation
- 9.7 new gTLDs have been delegated per week, on average, since January 1, 2014
- 36 new gTLDs were delegated in March
Based on the rate that Verisign has been adding new gTLDs to the root recently, we should expect that to top 200 in the next few days. The number of new gTLDs could outstrip the number of ccTLDs next month.