US Representative Anna Eshoo has written to ICANN’s top brass to express “deep concerns” about the .wine and .vin new gTLDs and urge that they be permanently killed off.
In a letter (pdf) to CEO Fadi Chehade, Eshoo wrote:
it’s my understanding that the .wine and .vin gTLDs have been met with fierce opposition from the wine industry, both here in the US and around the world. Given these concerns, coupled with the complexities of reaching agreement on Geographic Indications (GIs), I urge you to advocate for the .wine and .vin gTLDs to be permanently withdrawn from consideration.
Eshoo, a Democrat, is breaking rank with the official position of the Obama administration on this, which is that no special treatment is warranted for the two wine-related gTLDs.
Europe, on the other hand, is vehemently opposed to the introduction of either without strong protection for GIs.
At ICANN 50 in London last week the European Commission and France led the charge against approval of the gTLDs, with the Commission even floating the idea of legal action at one point.
France, meanwhile, seems ready to throw ICANN’s ambitions for independence under a bus in order to get what it wants.
Eshoo is ranking member of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, which recently passed the DOT-COM Act over her protestations that it was “embarrassing”.
She also represents the Silicon Valley area of northern California, which is known for its wineries.
While a handful of US winemakers do have a decidedly European attitude to GI protections, the US Governmental Advisory Committee delegation last week said that only a few out of “thousands” agree with France.
The Generic Names Supporting Organization has issued an “unprecedented” statement of “unanimous” support for a new way for ICANN community members to appeal ICANN decisions.
All seven constituency groups signed onto a statement that was read by representatives of registries, non-commercial users and intellectual property interests at the ICANN 50 public forum last week.
“It only took us 50 meetings, but I think the rarity of what you’re witnessing this afternoon sends a very strong message about our views,” the Registries Stakeholder Group’s Keith Drazek said.
This is the meat of the demand:
The entire GNSO joins together today calling for the Board to support community creation of an independent accountability mechanism that provides meaningful review and adequate redress for those harmed by ICANN action or inaction in contravention of an agreed upon compact with the community.
Rafik Dammak of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency added that the creation of such a mechanism is “a necessary and integral element of the IANA stewardship transition.”
“The Board’s decisions must be open to challenge and the Board cannot be in a position of reviewing and certifying its own decisions,” he said.
“We need an independent accountability structure that holds the ICANN Board, Staff, and various stakeholder groups accountable under ICANN’s governing documents, serves as an ultimate review of Board/Staff decisions,” said Kristina Rosette of the Intellectual Property Constituency.
What they’re basically looking for is a third way to appeal ICANN decisions beyond the existing Independent Review Process and Request for Reconsideration mechanisms.
IRP is considered too time-consuming and expensive for anyone other than well-funded commercial stakeholders. It cost ICM Registry millions in legal fees to win its IRP in 2010.
RfR, meanwhile, sees the ICANN board review its own decisions, and is only successful (in 15 years it’s only happened once, a week ago) when a requester can bring new evidence to the table.
What the GNSO seems to be looking for is a third way — independent review of ICANN decisions that doesn’t cost a bomb and can be used to reexamine decisions on the merits.
In many ways the demand represents the low-hanging fruit of the amorphous “accountability” discussion that took place at length at the London meeting last week.
ICANN accountability is being examined simultaneously with the proposed transition of the IANA stewardship functions from the US Department of Commerce to a yet-undefined mechanism.
There seems to be broad community consensus that the transition should be linked to improvements in accountability.
During the “constituency day” sessions on Tuesday, during which the ICANN board visits in turn with each GNSO constituency, accountability was the theme common to each and every session.
Time and again, CEO Fadi Chehade pushed the constituency he was addressing to provide some specifics.
“What is accountability and how accountable are we today?” he asked the RySG. “Who are we accountable to for what? We need to get precise before you ask us to answer a question that says when you finish accountability, then you can move to the transition.”
The GNSO statement two days later, which still needs fleshing out with details, appears to be the first step toward providing the precision Chehade wants.
Chehade said multiple times that the accountability review and the IANA transition discussions are “interrelated” but not “interdependent.”
If one were dependent on the other, it would be easier for opponents to stonewall the IANA transition by delaying the accountability review, he said.
“There are people in this community would like the transition from the US government to never happen,” he told the RySG. “They won’t admit it, but there are several, in this room even, who want this to never happen.”
He later told the NCUC that these bogeymen were “not in this room”, highlighting perhaps his belief that one or more gTLD registries is preparing to throw a spanner in the works.
Suspicion immediately fell on Verisign, forcing Drazek to issue a separate statement at the public forum on Thursday denying that the company (his employer) opposes the transition:
VeriSign supports NTIA’s March 14th, 2014 announcement. VeriSign supports NTIA’s four key principles. VeriSign Supports the bottom-up multistakeholder process that is now under way and that we have already been very much engaged. VeriSign supports the target date of September 2015 for transition. We support these things provided the multistakeholder community recommendations for ICANN’s accountability reforms are accepted by NTIA before the final transition, and sufficiently implemented by ICANN subject to measurable deliverables.
It’s not much of a denial, really, more of a clarification of where Verisign stands and confirmation that it wants, as Chehade alluded to, accountability reform prior to the IANA transition.
In my view, accountability is the more important of these two threads.
The Department of Commerce doesn’t actually do much in terms of its hands-on role as steward of the IANA functions as they related to domain names. It merely checks that ICANN’s proper procedures have been followed before signing off on DNS root zone changes.
If sanity prevails in the ICANN community’s transition discussions (and I have no reason to believe it will) whatever replaces the US should be similarly mute and invisible.
However, Commerce’s arguably more important role has been to act as a constant Sword of Damocles, a threat that ICANN could lose its IANA powers if it goes rogue and starts acting (in the US government’s view) against the best interests of the internet community.
That’s a very crude accountability mechanism.
What ICANN needs in future is not a direct replacement of that existential threat, but a mechanism of accessible, independent third-party review that will give the ICANN community and internet users everywhere confidence that ICANN isn’t a loose cannon with its hand on the internet’s tiller.
France says that “ICANN is no longer the appropriate forum to discuss Internet governance” after it failed to win support from other governments for special protections in .wine and .vin gTLDs.
The government came to ICANN 50 in London this week apparently determined to secure a Governmental Advisory Committee consensus that .wine should have protection for geographic indicators.
GIs are protected geographic terms such as “Champagne”, “Parma” and “Cheddar” that link a product to the region in which it is traditionally produced. France has a lot of wine-related GIs.
But the GAC — as I think everyone, including France, expected — failed to come to an agreement.
The GAC’s London communique (pdf) reads:
There was further discussion on the issue of .wine/.vin, but no agreement was reached because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
The matter of .wine and .vin was raised at the High Level Governmental Meeting, where some members expressed concerns in terms of ICANN’s accountability and public policy. These concerns are not shared by all members.
In the absence of a consensus GAC objection, the most likely outcome is ICANN pushing the competing .vin/.wine applicants along the contention resolution process to auction.
France has won a lot of media coverage this week, throwing out allegations such as the idea that ICANN is “opaque”, and questioning ICANN’s ability to do its job properly.
Quizzed about France’s statements at a press conference on Monday, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade pointed out that studies have show ICANN is extremely transparent and wondered aloud whether France’s position is the one where you “scream that everything’s broken when you don’t get what you want”.
Today’s French statement is a little, but not much, more relaxed. Translated, it partially reads:
Current procedures at ICANN highlight its inability to take into account the legitimate concerns of States and to ensure common resource management in the direction of respect for cultural diversity and balance of interests in economic sectors that its decisions affect.
Accordingly, it will propose to its European partners and all other stakeholders to reflect on the future of Internet governance based on transparency, accountability, and equal stakeholders. Commission also believes that ICANN is no longer the appropriate forum to discuss Internet governance.
The government did, however, reiterate its support for the notion of multi-stakeholder internet governance.
French wine producers were less diplomatic. We received a statement from ANEV, the Association Nationale des Elus de la Vigne et du vin, this afternoon that called upon the French government and European Union to block all domain names that use GIs in violation of local law.
Personally, I don’t think that’s going to happen.
During an ICANN session on Monday, the French GAC rep used the .wine controversy to call for the creation of a “General Assembly” at ICANN.
I’m working from the transcript, which has been translated by ICANN into English, and some media reports, but it seems that France is thinking along the lines of an ITU-style, voting-based rather than consensus-based, approach to generating GAC advice. I may be wrong.
During Monday’s press conference, Chehade did not oppose France’s suggestions, though he was careful to point out that it would have to be approved by the whole ICANN community first (implicitly a tall order).
A vote-based GAC could well favor European Union countries, given the make-up of the GAC right now.
On the .wine issue, it’s mainly a few Anglophone nations such as the US, Canada and Australia that oppose extra GI protections.
These nations point out that the GI issue is not settled international law and is best dealt with in venues such as the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.
France actually says the same thing.
But while France says that ICANN’s refusal to act on .wine jeopardizes GI talks in other fora, its opponents claim that if ICANN were to act it would jeopardize the same talks.
Chehade said during the Monday press conference that France had not yet run out of ways to challenge ICANN’s position on this, so the story probably isn’t over yet.
The Governmental Advisory Committee has advised ICANN to do as it’s told and stop listening to the views of other stakeholders, on the issue of protection mechanisms for the Red Cross.
In a barely believable piece of formal advice to the ICANN board this morning, part of its London communique (pdf), the GAC said:
the protections due to the Red Cross and Red Crescent terms and names should not be subjected to, or conditioned upon, a policy development process
That’s the GAC telling the ICANN board to do what the GAC says without involving the rest of the ICANN community, specifically the multi-stakeholder Generic Names Supporting Organization.
Some in the GNSO have already informally expressed their anger about this. More, and more formal, responses are expected to follow.
It’s a baffling GAC move given that most governments have spent much of the ICANN 50 meeting this week professing how much they support the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance.
Now the GAC is explicitly telling ICANN to ignore anyone that isn’t the GAC, on this particular issue.
That’s unprecedented, though many would say that GAC statements often sound like the existence of other advisory committees and supporting organizations is little more than an annoyance to members.
During a meeting between the ICANN board and the GAC on Tuesday, UK GAC member Mark Carvell expressed some of that frustration, saying ICANN’s approach to the issue has been “completely unacceptable”.
we’re talking about names that are protected under international law and implemented in national legislation
So, for example, if you go down Pride Street around the corner, you won’t find Red Cross Burgers. You won’t find Patisserie Croix Rouge in Paris anywhere, or in London, indeed, because it’s against the law to use those names.
So the response that we’ve had from the Board is equating these names to trademarks by referring to the GNSO response, saying that this is a matter for incorporation of policy development that would use the trademark clearinghouse.
So I just wanted to make the point here that this is completely unacceptable to us. We’re in a position as governments and administrations in implementing national law. So our advice continues to be that these names need to be protected and not subject to some policy development process that equates these names to trademarks
That point of view seems to have translated directly into the GAC’s communique today.
The GAC statement is doubly baffling because the Red Cross and Red Crescent already enjoy protections in the new gTLD program, and the GNSO has voted to make these protections permanent.
The GAC has been pushing for protections for the Red Cross for years.
It’s a noble effort in principle, designed to help thwart fraudsters who would use the Red Cross brand to bilk money out of well-meaning internet users in the wake of human tragedies such as earthquakes and tsunamis.
The ICANN board of directors first agreed to adopt such protections in 2011, when it approved the new gTLD program.
Red Cross protections were added to the program rules then on a temporary basis, pending a formal GNSO policy on the matter.
The GNSO took a while to get there, but it formally passed a resolution in November last year that would protect a list of Red Cross organizations at both the top and second levels in the new gTLD program.
So what’s the GAC’s problem?
ICANN director Chris Disspain asked Carvell during the Tuesday GAC-board session. Carvell responded:
I’m talking about our advice with regard to protection of national entities at the second level. So, for example, British Red Cross dot whatever. That protection does not exist, and is not agreed as we understand it.
The original list of Red Cross/Red Crescent strings for which the GAC demanded protection includes strings like “redcross” and “croissant-rouge”, but it does not include strings such as “americanredcross”.
There are 189 national Red Cross organizations that are not currently protected, according to the GAC.
Why are these strings not on the list?
It appears to be because the GAC didn’t ask for such protections until March this year, six months after the GNSO concluded its PDP and close to three years after the temporary protections were originally implemented.
The GAC communique from the latest Singapore meeting (pdf) contains a request for national Red Cross organizations to be protected, but I can’t find any matching GAC advice that predates March 2014.
The GAC seems to have screwed up, in other words, by not asking for all the protections it wanted three years ago.
And now it’s apparently demanding that its new, very late demands for protection get implemented by ICANN without a PDP and with no input from any other area of the ICANN community.
The GAC spent a lot of time this week talking up the multistakeholder process, but now it seems prepared to throw the concept under a bus either in the name of expediency or to cover up the fact that it seriously dropped the ball.
Nobody can deny that its heart is in the right place, but is abandoning support for multistakeholderism really the best way to go about getting what it wants, at a time when everyone is claiming governments won’t control the newly liberated ICANN?
Over 800,000 domain names have been suspended since the beginning of the year as a result of Whois email verification rules in the new ICANN Registrar Accreditation Agreement.
That’s according to the Registrars Stakeholder Group, which collected suspension data from registrars representing about 75% of all registered gTLD domain names.
The actual number of suspended domains could be closer to a million.
The 2013 RAA requires registrars to verify the email addresses listed in their customers’ Whois records. If they don’t receive the verification, they have to suspend the domain.
The RrSG told the ICANN board in March that these checks were doing more harm than good and today Tucows CEO Elliot Noss presented, as promised, data to back up the claim.
“There have been over 800,000 domains suspended,” Noss said. “We have stories of healthcare sites that have gone down, community groups whose sites have gone down.”
“I think we can safely say millions of internet users,” he said. “Those are real people just trying to use the internet. They are our great unrepresented core constituency.”
The RrSG wants to see contrasting data from law enforcement agencies and governments — which pushed hard for Whois verification — showing that the RAA requirement has had a demonstrable benefit.
Registrars asked at the Singapore meeting in March that law enforcement agencies (LEA) be put on notice that they can’t ask for more Whois controls until they’ve provided such data and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade said “It shall be done by London.”
Noss implied that the majority of the 800,000 suspended names belong to innocent registrants, such as those who had simply changed email addresses since registering their names.
“What was a lovely political win that we said time and time again in discussion after discussion was impractical and would provide no benefit, has demonstrably has created harm,” Noss said.
He was received with cautious support by ICANN board members.
Chair Steve Crocker wonder aloud how many of the 800,000 suspended domains are owned by bad guys, and he noted that LEA don’t appear to gather data in the way that the registrars are demanding.
“We were subjected, all of us, to heavy-duty pressure from the law enforcement community over a long period of time. We finally said, ‘Okay, we hear you and we’ll help you get this stuff implemented,’”, he added. “That creates an obligation as far as I’m concerned on their part.”
“We’re in a — at least from a moral position — in a strong position to say, ‘You must help us understand this. Otherwise, you’re not doing your part of the job’”, he said.
Chehade also seemed to support the registrars’ position that LEA needs to justify its demands and offered to take their data and concerns to the LEA and the Governmental Advisory Committee.
“They put restrictions on us that are causing harm, according to these numbers,” he said. “Let’s take this back at them and say, hey, you ask for all these things, this is what happened.”
“If you can’t tell me what good this has done, be aware not to come back and ask for more,” he said. “I’m with you on this 100%. I’m saying let’s use the great findings you seem to have a found and well-package them in a case and I will be your advocate.”
Director Mike Silber also spoke in support of the RrSG’s position.
“My view is if what you are saying is correct, the LEA’s have blown their credibility,” he said. “They’re going to have to do a lot of work before we impose similar disproportional requirements on actors that are not proven to be bad actors.”
So what does this all mean for registrants?
I don’t think there’s any ongoing process right now to get the Whois verification requirements overturned — that would require a renegotiation of the RAA — but it does seem to mean demands from governments and police are going to have to be much more substantiated in future.
Noss attempted to link the problem to the recommendations of the Whois Expert Working Group (EWG), which propose a completely revamped, centralized Whois system with much more verification and not much to benefit registrants.
To paraphrase: if email verification causes so much harm, what harms could be caused by the EWG proposal?
The EWG was not stuffed with LEA or governments, however, so it couldn’t really be characterized as another set of unreasonable demands from the same entities.