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Some men at ICANN meetings really are assholes

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2018, Domain Policy

Several men have been accused of sexual harassment at ICANN meetings.

A group of women have written to ICANN with five stories of how they were groped, intimidated, objectified or otherwise harassed in violation of not only common decency but also ICANN’s year-old anti-harassment policy.

They’ve not named the alleged harassers, but hinted that they may do so in future.

If we assume the stories are all the unembellished truth — and we kinda have to nowadays — then the behavior described is unambiguously out of order.

Fortunately, none of the allegations rise to the level of the obviously seriously criminal. In these cases we appear to be talking more Hoffman than Weinstein.

But we’re not talking about bizarro Cheesesandwichgate-level interactions either. The stories allege groping, simulated sexual activity, and physical restraint, among other things.

In one allegation, a woman claims a drunk man touched her rear during a social interaction.

In another, a man is alleged to have attempted to let himself into a woman’s hotel room, prompting her to block the door from the inside with a chair, after his earlier advances were rebuffed.

Another woman claims a man she had never met chose, as his opening conversational gambit, to compliment her appearance and inquire after her marital status — during a daytime coffee break for crying out loud — and then grabbed her waist and wrists to prevent her from leaving.

“If you want to start a conversation, ask what I do, what do I work with and why am I here,” the woman is quoted as saying. “Do not acknowledge physical attributes and reduce me to this.”

“If you want to talk to women in a professional setting, do not tighten her wrists, do not grab her waist. Do not ask whether she is married or not,” she said. “Regardless, you should respect her integrity, not her marital status.”

Another man is accused of simulating a sex position with a woman during a cocktail event.

A fifth is accused of “body-blocking” a woman as she attempted to leave a room.

The letter states:

These actions which are definitely categorized as harassment and even assault, would not only affect the woman who went through the incident but it would also lead to several probable repercussions such as (1) Her withdrawal from the community and physical presence. We all know how important being present in meetings is on different levels of engagement in and outside meetings (2) When no solid response from the community is done towards the harasser, there can definitely be an increase in aggressive characters of harassers as there would be no accountability to stop them (3) With the increase in harassment there surely will be a decrease in the representation of young women’s voices in any proceeding which defies the core concept of diversity.

The letter (pdf) is unsigned, and ICANN broke with its usual practice of listing the sender on the correspondence page of its web site.

The letter also does not name any of the accused men, but it and a related comment from a group of women at the public forum at ICANN 61 last week, said the women “refrain from using names for now, in order to keep the focus on the topic and not the person”.

It’s been DI practice to not name either party concerned in such allegations, even when we know who they are.

While the anti-harassment policy exists to deal precisely with the kinds of behaviors outlined in the letter, we reported in November that the ICANN Ombudsman had received no complaints whatsoever invoking the policy, even after the post-Weinstein sea change in workplace sexual politics.

But the letter-writers say this is because the current Ombudsman, Herb Weye, is a man, and women are sometimes reluctant to report such incidents to a man. The letter states:

There should be a woman ombudsperson for harassment reporting. It has been proven by several studies that given the sensitivity of the issue, harassment reports are more prone to be tackled and come forth with, when the ombudsperson is (a) a woman (b) an expert in gender-related issues and mitigating harassment risks

They’re also not confident that the policy, which has yet to be tested, will cause more good than harm.

They also want all ICANN meeting delegates to read the harassment policy as a condition for attendance, and for signage at the meetings to warn against inappropriate behavior.

In response to the public forum comments, ICANN vice-chair Chris Disspain promised that the board will respond to the women’s letter, adding that the Ombudsman is taking a look at how the harassment policy has been implemented.

“It’s very important that ICANN is a safe place for everyone,” chair Cherine Chalaby told the women. “The more we raise awareness, the more it is safe.”

The message to certain blokes at ICANN meetings seems pretty clear: stop being assholes.

Like most places of work, the ICANN community is resplendent with examples of people forming lasting romantic relationships — or even just getting laid — but none of them began with a man grabbing a woman’s backside without her consent.

Even post-Weinstein, no sexual harassment complaints at ICANN

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2017, Domain Policy

There have been no formal complaints of sexual harassment in the ICANN community since the organization introduced a zero tolerance policy back in March, according to the Ombudsman.

That’s even after the current media storm about such behavior, precipitated by the revelations about movie producer Harvey Weinstein, which has given men and women in many industries the confidence to level accusations against others.

“There have been no complaints of sexual harassment since the implementation of the Community Anti-Harassment Policy nor the uptake of [post-Weinstein] media coverage,” ICANN Ombudsman Herb Weye told DI in response to an inquiry today.

The anti-harassment policy was adopted in March, and there have been three full, in-person ICANN meetings since then.

Face-to-face meetings are of course where one would expect to see such incidents, if any were to occur.

The policy bans everything from groping to wolf-whistling to dirty jokes to repeated, unwanted requests for dates.

At the time the policy was approved, ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey noted that there had been more than one such complaint since the infamous Cheesesandwichgate incident in March 2016.

No complaints since March does not necessarily mean no incidents, of course.

One recent recommendation to reform the office of the Ombudsman (or Ombudsperson, or simply Ombuds, in recent ICANN documentation) is to ensure a gender-mixed staff to perhaps make it more likely for issues related to gender to be reported.

A recent, non-scientific survey of ICANN participants found that about a third of women had knowledge or experience of sexism in the community.

Weye said that most complaints about non-sexual “harassment” occur at social events where alcohol is involved. He said that ICANN participants should be discreet when discussing “sensitive” cultural issues in such contexts, lest they inadvertently offend those within earshot.

There is “no place for disrespect in ICANN’s multi-cultural diverse environment” he said.

Iran rep reported to ICANN Ombudsman, again

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2017, Domain Policy

Iran’s Governmental Advisory Committee representative has found himself reported to ICANN’s Ombudsman for alleged bad behavior for the second time in just a few months.

Outspoken GACer Kavouss Arasteh was referred to Ombudsman Herb Waye by consultant John Laprise, according to posts on mailing lists and social media.

Both men serve on an ICANN volunteer working group that is looking at matters related to the jurisdiction in which ICANN operates.

The group’s discussions have recently become extremely fractious, largely due to a series of combative emails and teleconference interventions from Arasteh.

Laprise eventually said on the list that Arasteh was being a “bad actor”, adding that “his tone, manner, and insinuations are detrimental and indeed hostile to the process.”

He later said on Facebook that he had reported the matter to the Ombudsman.

The spat centered on an August 1 teleconference in which members of the so-called WS2-Jurisdiction working group heard a briefing from ICANN lawyers on the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees international trade sanctions in the US.

As well as enforcing sanctions against countries including Iran, OFAC maintains a list of people and organizations, many of them Iranian, that American companies are forbidden from doing business with.

It impacts ICANN because the organization in its normal course of business is often obliged to deal with ccTLD registries in sanctioned nations, for which it needs to apply for OFAC licenses.

Arasteh initially complained multiple times that the meeting had been rescheduled for August 1 — apparently with his initial consent — which is a national holiday in his home nation of Switzerland.

He also fought for ICANN lawyers to be asked to provide, at very short notice, a written briefing paper on OFAC, answering the group’s questions, prior to the teleconference taking place.

On neither issue did he receive support from fellow volunteers, something for which he seemed to blame group chair Greg Shatan, an intellectual property lawyer.

Arasteh’s criticisms of an increasingly weary Shatan sometimes seemed to border on conspiracy theory. All other working group members who publicly expressed an opinion said Shatan was doing a fine job herding this particular set of cats.

During the teleconference itself, Arasteh ate up the first five or six minutes of allotted time with a rambling, barely comprehensible complaint about the format of the meeting, compelling Shatan to eventually ask for his mic to be cut off.

In emails over the next 48 hours, the GAC rep continued his tirade against what he perceives as Shatan’s bias against him and called again for ICANN legal to provide a formal set of written answers to questions.

Some fellow group members believe Arasteh’s defensive and confrontational approach is merely a clash of cultures between his usual style of government diplomacy and the staid, tediously polite style of ICANN working group interactions.

Others are less charitable.

Still, the question of whether the latest WG friction has infringed any of ICANN’s “Expected Standards of Behavior” now appears to be in the hands of the Ombudsman.

Arasteh was also reported to Waye back in May, when he accused the chairs of a different ICANN working group of trying to exclude governmental voices from new gTLD policy-making by scheduling teleconferences at times he found inconvenient.

Waye subsequently reported that the complaint had been resolved between the parties.

In June, he said he was proactively monitoring a third working group mailing list after receiving allegations of harassment. That was unrelated to Iran.

Ombudsman steps in after harassment claims in Whois group

Kevin Murphy, June 16, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN Ombudsman Herb Waye has started monitoring an ICANN mailing list after multiple complaints of disrespectful behavior.

Waye this week told participants in the Registration Data Services working group that he is to trawl through their list archives and proactively monitor the group following “multiple complaints regarding behavior that contravenes the ICANN Expected Standards of Behavior and possibly the Community Anti-Harassment Policy”.

The RDS working group is exploring the possibility of replacing the current Whois system, in which all data is completely open, with something “gated”, restricting access to authenticated individuals based on their role.

Law enforcement agencies, for example, may be able to get a greater level of access to personal contact information than schmucks like me and you.

Privacy advocates are in favor of giving registrants more control over their data, while anti-abuse researchers hate anything that will limit their ability to stop spam, phishing and the like.

It’s controversial stuff, and arguments on the RDS WG list have been been very heated recently, sometimes spilling over into ad hominem attacks.

The Expected Standards of Behavior requires all ICANN community members to treat each other with civility.

I haven’t seen anything especially egregious, but apparently the disrespect on display has been sufficiently upsetting that the Ombudsman has had to step in.

It’s the first time, that I’m aware of, that the ICANN Ombudsman has proactively monitored a list rather than simply responding to complaints.

Waye said that he plans to deliver his verdict before ICANN 59, which kicks off in a little over a week.

Ombudsman trashes ICANN’s rejection of .gay “community”

Kevin Murphy, August 1, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN’s outgoing Ombudsman fired a parting shot at his former employer last week with a scathing analysis of its rejection of .gay as a community gTLD.

ICANN should reject the decisions of two independent Economist Intelligence Unit panels, which found that Dotgay LLC’s application for .gay did not meet the strict definition of “community” under ICANN rules, LaHatte wrote.

“This is the time to recognise that even if the EIU evaluation did not achieve the appropriate number of points, that the community is real, does need protection and should be supported,” he wrote.

His recommendation appears on his personal blog, dated July 27, the same day his contract with ICANN expired. It has not appeared on the official ICANN Ombudsman blog.

The EIU is responsible for conducting Community Priority Evaluations for applicants who claim to be representing communities.

Its decisions have been unpredictable and to a degree inconsistent, but both times its panels looked at Dotgay’s .gay, they scored the application lower than the 14 out of 16 points required to pass the CPE.

Winning a CPE generally means you get the gTLD in question. Losing means you have to go to auction against competing applicants.

In the case of .gay, the other applicants are Top Level Design, Minds + Machines and Rightside.

Dotgay failed both times because its stated community — which includes straight people — does not match the string “gay”.

Nobody’s ever said that there’s no such thing as a gay community, they’ve just said there’s no such thing as a gay Community (big C) as defined by Dotgay LLC.

LaHatte’s recommendation does not delve into the nitty-gritty of the scoring process, but seems to criticize the system — and the flawed Request for Reconsideration system Dotgay has thrice unsuccessfully invoked — as “inadequate”. He wrote:

The role of the ombudsman is to deal with issues of fairness, and this encompasses issues such as respect for diversity and support for all parts of our community. Sometimes the mechanisms which we have put together to resolve challenges are simply inadequate…

But the issue that I want to emphasise in this recommendation is that it has always been open to ICANN to reject an EIU recommendation, especially when public interest considerations are involved. What is needed is to take a bold approach and demonstrate to the ICANN community, but also much more widely, to the world of Internet users, that ICANN has a commitment to principles of international law (see Article IV of the Bylaws), including human rights, fairness, and transparency.

The board will be very aware of the human rights initiatives undertaken in the light of the IANA transition and the careful evaluation of the accountability processes. But sometimes it is necessary to take a view which evaluates whether the decision taken corresponds with the bylaws and articles of incorporation. That view should be that ICANN supports the gay community and recognises that there is a community which requires protection and recognition, which has been marginalized, threatened and attacked, and which should be considered a genuine community notwithstanding the EIU recommendation.

He’s basically calling on ICANN’s board to cast aside the rules and previous practice in this particular instance and instead make a political statement, in my reading of the recommendation.

I don’t think ICANN will do that.

On a couple of occasions when Dotgay has suffered an ICANN-induced setback in the past, ICANN has put out statements reminding everyone that there will be a .gay, they only question is who runs it.

Because Dotgay filed a community application, it would be obliged to make .gay a restricted space. Its application talks about registrants having to be approved as eligible before they register.

But it also would have the strictest measures in place to address homophobia and harassment — something the other applicants may, but have not formally committed, to implement.