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Board confirms: ICANN seeks non-US HQ

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has given the clearest indication yet that the organization wants to set up an HQ overseas, further loosening ties with the US government.

The board has formed six new “President’s Globalization Advisory Groups”, made up of half a dozen directors each, one of which has been tasked with advising ICANN on ways to:

Establish complimentary [sic] parallel international structure to enhance ICANN’s global legitimacy. Consider complementary parallel international structure within scope of ICANN’s mandate.

This indicates that ICANN’s reported plan to base itself in Geneva may not be so far-fetched after all, but it also indicates that ICANN currently does not anticipate doing away with its original HQ in Los Angeles.

ICANN already has several offices around the world, but recently there’s been talk of it embedding itself in Switzerland, as an “international organization”, more deeply.

As we’ve previously reported, ICANN may not relocate outside of the US due to its Affirmation of Commitments with the US Department of Commerce, which requires it to remain a US non-profit.

But another of the three panels set up by the board this week will advise ICANN on how to create an “enhanced Affirmation of Commitments.”

Other panels will explore the globalization of the IANA function — currently operated under a procurement contract with Commerce — and the root server system, which is independent operated but heavily US-based.

The ICANN board said in its resolution:

the continued globalization of ICANN must evolve in several ways, including: partnerships in the broader Internet eco-system to strengthen multistakeholder Internet governance frameworks; strengthening ICANN itself, including affirmations of commitments and relationships among the stakeholders; evolving the policy structures to serve and scale to the needs of the global community, and identify opportunities for the future legal structures and IANA globalization.

The plan is for these panels talk to the community at the Singapore meeting next month, before reporting back to the board before ICANN meets for its 50th public meeting in London this coming June.

This week’s move is the latest in a series of decisions made by the ICANN board following the spying revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and the subsequent consternation they caused in capitals around the world.

Brazil is set to host a meeting to discuss these kinds of internet governance matters with ICANN and its coalition of the willing in Sao Paulo this April.

EU guns for ICANN’s relationship with US

Kevin Murphy, February 12, 2014, Domain Policy

The European Union has made ICANN’s close relationship with the US one of the targets of a new platform on internet governance.

In a new communication on internet governance (pdf), the European Commission said it will “work with all stakeholders” to:

– identify how to globalise the IANA functions, whilst safeguarding the continued stability and security of the domain-name system;

– establish a clear timeline for the globalisation of ICANN, including its Affirmation of Commitments.

The policy is being characterized as being prompted by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about widespread US spying on internet users.

EC vice president Neelie Kroes issued a press release announcing the policy, saying:

Recent revelations of large-scale surveillance have called into question the stewardship of the US when it comes to Internet Governance. So given the US-centric model of Internet Governance currently in place, it is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet.

Despite this, the document does not contain any allegations that link ICANN to spying, or indeed any justification for the logical leap from Snowden to domain names.

The EU position is not dissimilar to ICANN’s own. Last October CEO Fadi Chehade used Snowden as an excuse to talk about putting ICANN’s relationship with the US back in the spotlight.

As I noted at the time, it all looks very opportunistic.

Internationalizing ICANN is of course a noble objective — and one that has been envisaged since ICANN’s very creation 15 years ago — but what would it look like it practice?

I’d be very surprised if what the Commission has in mind isn’t a scenario in which the Commission always gets what it wants, even if other stakeholders disagree with it.

Right now, the Commission is demanding that ICANN rejects applications for .wine and .vin new gTLDs unless applicants agree to new rights protection mechanisms for geographic indicators such as “Champagne”.

That’s something that ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee could not reach consensus on, yet the EU wants ICANN to act based on its unilateral (insofar as the EU could be seen as a single entity) advice.

The new EC policy document makes lots of noise about its support for the “multi-stakeholder process”, but with hints that it might not be the “multi-equal-stakeholder process” championed by Chehade.

For example, it states on the one hand:

Those responsible for an inclusive process must make a reasonable effort to reach out to all parties impacted by a given topic, and offer fair and affordable opportunities to participate and contribute to all key stages of decision making, while avoiding capture of the process by any dominant stakeholder or vested interests.

That sounds fair enough, but the document immediately goes on to state:

the fact that a process is claimed to be multistakeholder does not per se guarantee outcomes that are widely seen to be legitimate

it should be recognised that different stages of decision making processes each have their own requirements and may involve different sets of stakeholders.

Sound multistakeholder processes remain essential for the future governance of the Internet. At the same time, they should not affect the ability of public authorities, deriving their powers and legitimacy from democratic processes, to fulfil their public policy responsibilities where those are compatible with universal human rights. This includes their right to intervene with regulation where required.

With that in mind, what would an “internationalized” IANA look like, if the European Commission gets its way?

Right now, IANA may be contractually tethered to the US Department of Commerce, but in practice Commerce has never refused to delegate a TLD (even when Kroes asked it to delay .xxx).

Compare that to Kroes statement last September that “under no circumstance can we agree having .wine and .vin on the internet, without sufficient safeguards”.

Today’s policy news from the EC looks fine at a high level, but in light of what the EC actually seems to want to achieve in practical terms, it looks more like an attempt at a power grab.

ICANN approves reworked GAC advice over US concerns

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2014, Domain Policy

No sooner had we reported on the US government’s complaint about ICANN’s reinterpretation of GAC advice on new gTLDs than it emerged that ICANN has already approved the plan.

The ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution on how to implement the so-called Category 1 advice the Governmental Advisory Committee came up with in Beijing last April. The resolution was published today.

The Category 1 advice calls for stronger regulation — stuff like forcing registrants to provide industry credentials at point of sale — in scores of new gTLDs the GAC considers particularly sensitive.

Despite US Department of Commerce assistant secretary Larry Strickling calling for more talks after ICANN substantially diluted some of the GAC’s Beijing communique, the NGPC has now formally approved its watered-down action plan.

Under the plan, registrants in gTLDs such as .lawyer and .doctor will have to “represent” that they are credentialed professionals in those verticals when they register a domain.

That’s as opposed to actually providing those credentials at point of registration, which, as Strickling reiterated in his letter, is what the GAC asked for in its Beijing communique.

The full list of eight approved “safeguards” (as interpreted from GAC advice by ICANN) along with the list of the gTLDs that they will apply to, can be found in this PDF.

Chehade talks up split from US oversight

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade used his keynote address at the newdomains.org conference this morning to discuss his plans to divorce the organization from US governmental oversight.

With a split from the US recurring theme in his recent speeches, Chehade nevertheless warned that there were risks that such a move could create a dangerous governance vacuum.

“The current ICANN contract that gives the US government a unique role in the root management function is not sustainable,” he said. “It’s just not sustainable.”

That seems to be a reference to the IANA contract, in which the US has essentially a veto on ICANN’s decisions regarding root zone changes such as new gTLD delegations.

“I think we need to think together how we grow from that and how we globalize that contract,” he said. “But we need to be very careful about creating a vacuum or uninteded consequences that would destabilize the root of the internet.”

While Chehade noted that a split from the US has always been envisaged, he said that the revelations about US internet surveillance made by NSA defector Edward Snowden has provided a catalyst to speed it up.

When Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff recently called for a “multilateral” (read: inter-governmental, (read: ITU)) approach to internet governance, Chehade and an ICANN team traveled to Brazil to persuade her to instead focus on the creation of a “multistakeholder” model instead.

There’s now a “coalition” of the “I*” groups (ICANN, IETF, etc), big-name companies such as Disney, and governments such as Brazil, focused on creating multistakeholder solutions to problems — such as spam and cyber-bullying — that are not in ICANN’s purview Chehade said.

There’s a multistakeholder meeting planned for April or May next year (I’ve heard both dates), to be hosted by Brazil, that will look at internet governance post-Snowden.

This meeting is about “allowing ICANN to not expand its remit”, according to Chehade. He said: “We don’t want to expand our remit.”

What we seem to be looking at here is the creation for a new organization, of which ICANN could be a member, that will allow stakeholders to coordinate responses to tricky cross-border internet problems.

While ICANN seems to be taking the leading role in its creation, it doesn’t sound like ICANN is trying to get into issues beyond naming and addressing, judging by Chehade’s speech this morning

Chehade also talked up ICANN’s support for the domain name industry.

He admitted that ICANN has caused a lot of problems for new gTLD applicants over the course of the gTLD program, but promised that this will change, with ICANN taking a more “background” role.

“You need less risk and more stability from the ICANN side,” he said. “You have suffered for a long time from a lot of instability, a lot of unknowns.”

Increased automation, internationlization and professionalism from ICANN will serve this goal, he said.

ICANN’s compliance department, he added, should “not be the policeman for the industry but be customer service for the registrants”, he said.

US raises ITU bogeyman as Chehade pushes for exit

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade and a US ambassador today both talked up the multistakeholder model as a cure to concerns about PRISM and related surveillance programs.

But the US warned against using the spying scandal to push internet governance into the hands of “centralized intergovernmental control”, which I’m taking to mean the International Telecommunications Union.

Chehade and Ambassador Danny Sepulveda, US coordinator for international communications and information policy, were speaking at the opening ceremony of the Internet Governance Forum in Bali, Indonesia.

Chehade went first, telling the audience that ICANN plans to set up legal structures in other countries in addition to the US, following on from the three-hub strategy he put in place earlier this year.

It’s part of his effort to internationalize ICANN, he said.

“While we are a California corporation today there is nothing that precludes us from being also, in addition to that, a legal organization in other places, and we intend to do that in order to make ICANN a more international organization,” he said.

He went on to say something that could be interpreted as his intention to get rid of or renegotiate the Affirmation of Commitments with the US government:

We also believe our commitment to the world should be indeed to the world and not to any particular stakeholder, and we will work towards that and change that.

Minutes later, Sepulveda took the stage to more or less agree with Chehade — at least at a high level — whilst simultaneously warning about too much governmental control over the internet.

He said:

The internet today is no more any one country’s than any others. It is no more any one stakeholder’s than any others.

We support an open dialogue on the modernization and evolution of the multistakeholder system that enables the operation of the global internet. Bottom-up, inclusive, cooperative efforts to empower users and enable innovation, free from arbitrary government control, is what the US has been pulling for all along.

He directly addressed the Montevideo declaration, which I wrote about earlier today, which he said was a call “to modernize the internet’s governing system and make it more inclusive”.

The declaration, he said, “should be seen as an opportunity to seek that broad inclusion and for organizing multistakeholder responses to outstanding internet issues”.

“We must work together with these organizations, in good faith, on these important issues,” he said.

“We should however guard against recent arguments for centralized intergovernmental control of the internet that have used recent news stories about intelligence programs for their justification,” he said.

This seems to be a reference to the ITU, the standard US bogeyman when it comes to control over ICANN.

Watch Chehade’s speech here, then fast forward to 1:25 to hear Sepulveda’s response.