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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.

Should new gTLD objections have an appeals process?

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2013, Domain Policy

That’s the question the ICANN Ombudsman is asking today.

Several new gTLD applicants that have lost objections — many in decisions that appear to diverge from ICANN’s rules or are inconsistent with other decisions — have been in touch to ask for redress, Ombudsman Chris LaHatte blogged this morning. He wrote:

The real problem as it seems to me, is that apart from the internal review procedures, there is no ability to seek an appeal from the panel decisions. A number of complainants had mentioned the need for an appeal process, emphasising that some of the decisions were in their view, inconsistent or not following the majority views.

LaHatte noted that his role is to decide issues of fairness in ICANN’s own decisions. As objections are all handled by third-party arbitration bodies, it’s not at all clear whether he has any authority at all over objection decisions.

Applicants have also been invoking the Reconsideration process en masse in an attempt to have successful objections overturned, but all Reconsideration requests to date have been rejected.

Reconsideration generally requires that the requester provide ICANN with new evidence that was not considered at the time of the original decision.

The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration, appears to be happy to leave objections in the hands of the arbitrators so far.

But the new gTLD objection process is a bit of a joke at the moment.

String Confusion Objection panelists have delivered inconsistent decisions, while Community Objection and Limited Public Interest Objection panels often seem to be making up rules as they go.

So should ICANN have an appeals process? If one is created it will undoubtedly be broadly used.

ICANN compliance not broken, Ombudsman rules

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2013, Domain Policy

Ombudsman Chris LaHatte has rejected a complaint from spam research firm KnujOn — and 173 of its supporters — claiming that ICANN’s compliance department is failing consumers.

In a ruling posted online today, LaHatte said there was “no substance” to complaints that a small number of “bad” registrars, notably BizCN, have been allowed to run wild.

KnujOn’s Garth Bruen is a regular and vocal critic of ICANN compliance, often claiming that it ignores complaints about bad Whois data and fails to enforce the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, enabling fake pharma spamming operations to run from domains sponsored by ICANN-accredited registrars.

This CircleID blog post should give you a flavor.

The gist of the complaint was that ICANN regularly fails to enforce the RAA when registrars allow bad actors to own domain names using plainly fake contact data.

But LaHatte ruled, based on a close reading of the contracts, that the Bruen and KnujOn’s supporters have overestimated registrars’ responsibilities under the RAA. He wrote:

the problem is that the complainants have overstated the duties of the registrar, the registrant and the role of compliance in this matrix.

He further decided that allegations about ICANN compliance staff being fired for raising similar issues were unfounded.

It’s a detailed decision. Read the whole thing here.

Rejected .gay gTLD objection ruled “unfair”

Kevin Murphy, June 27, 2013, Domain Policy

dotgay LLC could be hit by another formal new gTLD objection from gay Republicans.

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte today said that it was “unfair” that a community objection filed by GOProud, a gay lobby group, was rejected by the International Chamber of Commerce.

The ICC screwed up, it seems, judging by LaHatte’s decision.

Washington DC-based GOProud, which seeks to show that not all gay rights advocates have liberal views on other issues, had filed a community-based objection to dotgay’s .gay gTLD application.

While the substance of the objection is not known, I suspect it’s politically motivated. The other objection to dotgay’s application was filed by another gay Republican organization, the Metroplex Republicans of Dallas (formerly Log Cabin Republicans Dallas).

The ICC rejected the objection because it was about 500 words over the prescribed limit, but it sent the notification to the wrong email address, according to LaHatte’s blog.

Had GOProud received the notification, it would have had time to amend its objection to rectify the mistake. However, by the time it discovered the problem the filing deadline had passed.

LaHatte wrote:

there is some unfairness in the subsequent rejection given the apparent error in the use of the wrong email. It seems to me that it would be relatively easy to unwind that decision, and permit the late filing of the objection. I can of course only make a recommendation, but in this case where there is some unfairness I think the matter should be revisited.

The Ombudsman’s role is to handle complaints about unfairness in ICANN’s actions, so it’s not entirely clear what’s going to happen in this case, given that the ICC is an ICANN subcontractor.

LaHatte’s recommendation is certainly not binding in either case. Whether the ICC changes its mind may depend on whether ICANN asks it to or not.

dotgay is the New York-based applicant founded by Scott Seitz. It’s one of four companies applying for .gay.

The other three applicants — Top Level Domain Holdings, Top Level Design and Demand Media — have each received community objections from the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association, a dotgay supporter.

Late new gTLD objections “not unfair”

Kevin Murphy, June 10, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte has ruled that the decision to accept formal new gTLD objections sent one minute after the filing deadline “does not create unfairness”.

The decision is a blow to at least one applicant, which had tried to have an objection against it kicked out for being late.

LaHatte received a complaint from the applicant, believed to be represented by Galway Strategy Group’s Jim Prendergast, last month.

The complainant said that an objection by a competing applicant was sent at 00:01:02 UTC on March 15, one minute and three seconds after the deadline laid out in ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook.

But the dispute resolution providers hired by ICANN to manage objections decided to give a little leeway, agreeing among themselves (with ICANN’s tacit consent) to a five-minute extension.

Now LaHatte has decided — entirely reasonably in my view — that this was not unfair.

He wrote: “It is my view that a five minute window is a proportionate response and does not create unfairness for the applicants, but does provide fairness given that it is only five minutes.”

He added that at least one other objection, which was filed much later, was rejected for its tardiness.

Ombudsman probing “late” new gTLD objections

Kevin Murphy, May 16, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman Chris LaHatte has received complaints about some new gTLD objections that were apparently filed after the submission deadline but are being processed anyway.

Two companies have officially called on LaHatte to tell ICANN that “late complaints should not be received on the basis that the deadlines were well advertised and achievable”.

The issue seems to be that ICANN had set a deadline of 2359 UTC March 13 for objections to be filed, and some of them arrived slightly late.

The delays appear to have been a matter of mere minutes, and blamed on latency caused by heavy email attachments and other technical problems.

According to ICANN, the dispute resolution providers decided to give objectors a five-minute grace period, essentially extending the deadline from 2359 UTC to 0004 UTC the following day.

The recipients of these objections clearly now want to use this technicality to kill off the objections, avoiding the cost of having to defend themselves.

In a set of answers to questions posed verbally in Beijing last month, published last week (pdf), ICANN said:

ICANN is confident that the Dispute Resolution Service Providers are complying with the guidelines in the [Applicant Guidebook].

I don’t know which applications are affected by the issue, but the question at the Beijing public forum was posed by new gTLD consultant Jim Prendergast of the Galway Strategy Group.

He received applause, so I guess he wasn’t the only person in the room with an interest in the subject.

LaHatte, on his blog, is looking for feedback before making his decision.

Ombudsman probing secretive Trademark Clearinghouse meetings

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte is investigating ICANN’s recent closed-door Trademark Clearinghouse talks, and wants feedback from community members.

In a brief blog post this evening, LaHatte wrote:

I have received a complaint about the process used in the recent Trademark Clearinghouse meetings where decisions were made on the way forward. The complaint in summary says that the decisions were made without full consultation from some contituencies. I have of course not formed any view on this, and need input from people who participated and were pleased with the process, or from others who feel they were excluded. Such submissions can be made to me at ombudsman@icann.org, or on this blog. as comments.

The complaint refers to meetings in Brussels and Los Angeles recently, convened by CEO Fadi Chehade to discuss proposals jointly submitted by the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency.

The IPC and BC continue to call for stronger trademark protections in the new gTLD program, and the talks were designed to see if any changes could be made to the TMCH that would fulfill these requests.

The two meetings ultimately saw ICANN come up with a “strawman proposal” for giving the IPC/BC some of what they wanted, which is currently open for public comment.

However, the meetings were invitation-only and, unusually for ICANN, not webcast live. Attendees at the LA meeting also say that they were asked by ICANN not to tweet or blog about the talks.

While the LA meeting was apparently recorded, to the best of my knowledge the audio has not yet been released.

While LaHatte did not of course name the person who complained about these meetings, I’d hazard a guess they are from the non-commercial side of the house, members of which have already complained that they were vastly outnumbered by IP interests.

(UPDATE: I was correct. The complaint was filed by Maria Farrell of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency)

Former GNSO Council chair Stephane Van Gelder (from the Registrar Constituency) also recently wrote a guest post for DI in which he questioned the possible circumvention of ICANN’s established bottom-up policy-making processes.

There’s also substantial concern in other constituencies that ICANN is trying to appease the trademark lobby for political reasons, attempting to force through their desired changes to the new gTLD program under the guise of tweaks to “implementation” detail.

Chehade has asked the GNSO Council for “policy guidance” on the TMCH strawman proposals, which seems to be already stirring up passions on the Council ahead of its December 20 meeting.

The question of what is “implementation” and what is “policy” is a meme that we will be returning to before long, without doubt.

Why is ICANN’s Ombudsman trying to take down a drink-drive mugshot?

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2012, Domain Policy

Apparently there wasn’t already enough confusion about ICANN’s role in internet governance.

ICANN’s independent Ombudsman, Chris LaHatte, seems to be getting involved in content-related arguments between netizens and web site operators, according to a new case report posted on his blog.

LaHatte recently received a complaint from an internet user about the web site Busted Mugshots, a search engine for US criminal records.

The complainant was a professional who in his younger days had been pulled over for drink-driving and photographed by police, but never charged or convicted of any offense.

Busted Mugshots had apparently tried to charge him a fee and demanded to see non-existent court acquittal documents in order to remove his photograph from the site.

I’m assuming the individual in question complained to the Ombudsman because he has no idea what powers ICANN has or what the ICANN Ombudsman’s role is.

ICANN, for avoidance of doubt, has no powers over the content of web sites, and the Ombudsman’s job is to investigate complaints about ICANN’s actions or decisions.

Yet LaHatte, perplexingly, got involved anyway.

According to his case notes he contacted Busted Mugshots to point out that it was very unfair to keep the complainant’s photo up, but met with the same response as the complainant.

I’ve no doubt that LaHatte’s heart was in the right place here, and he says he pointed out at all times that he has no jurisdiction over web content, but I can’t help but worry that this doesn’t help ICANN’s image.

You only need to lurk on a Twitter search for “icann” for a day or two — or read some non-industry media coverage for that matter — to know that lots of people out there don’t know what ICANN does.

Many regular internet users mistakenly believe the organization is the internet’s government or police force, and ICANN has done a pretty poor job over the years of correcting misconceptions.

While I’m sure no one would challenge LaHatte’s right to complain about the contents of web sites as a private citizen, I don’t think the Ombudsman should be seen to be involving himself in this kind of dispute.

Beckstrom probed over bizarre spam complaint

Kevin Murphy, September 25, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman looked into a complaint that former CEO Rod Beckstrom allegedly spammed community members the day after he left the organization, it has emerged.

Whoever filed the complaint evidently did not like Beckstrom one bit.

According to Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, who rejected the complaint, the complainant said:

I wish to file a formal complaint about the below SPAM originating from ICANN’s servers. Since Mr. Beckstrom has left yesterday it is clear that he cannot have had access to ICANN infrastructure any longer. If however this were the case, one would have to consider YET ANOTHER serious breach. In any case I do not wish to receive communications of any kind from this person, Mr. Beckstrom. Please confirm receipt of this complaint, commence an investigation and advise me of the outcome.

LaHatte found that the email in question was “a courteous farewell and introduction to the new CEO” sent to between 50 and 60 people, all movers and shakers in the ICANN community.

According to LaHatte, who blogged about the complaint today:

After discussing this matter with the ICANN staff, it is clear that this email was in fact not spam in the common meaning of the term. Spam is usually considered bulk emailing sent indiscriminately to very large numbers of recipients. By way of contrast, 60 emails specifically tailored for groups of recipients is hardly unusual within a large organisation such as ICANN.

I know Beckstrom was not a massively popular individual with some in the ICANN community, but this complaint seems to be way out of proportion for a simple unwanted email.

Somebody out there needs to take a chill pill.

Ombudsman dealing with new gTLDs complaint

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte is investigating a complaint related to the new generic top-level domains program.

Speaking to DI today, LaHatte declined to disclose the nature of the complaint or the identity of the complainant, but said he hoped to have the case resolved in a few weeks.

He may publish an official report about the investigation, he said. This would be the first such report to emerge from the Ombudsman’s office since October 2009.

The often-overlooked Ombudsman is not mentioned at all in the Applicant Guidebook, but it is an avenue open to applicants who believe they’ve been treated unfairly.

LaHatte said it’s “unlikely but conceivable” that he will receive complaints about unfair behavior when applications start being processed – and rejected – later this year.

The Ombudsman’s job is to look into allegations of unfairness in ICANN staff actions or the decisions of its board of directors.

But LaHatte said he believes he would be able to also handle complaints about the program’s outside evaluators, if applicants believe they have been treated unfairly.

“There will be some people who prefer to litigate and some who would prefer to come to me,” he said. “The message I would like to send to the community is that my door is always open.”

But he warned that the Ombudsman is not a “court of appeal” for applicants who simply disagree with adverse decisions.

The Ombudsman job has in the past been criticized for being relatively toothless – the role answers to the ICANN board and has no direct power other than the ability to make recommendations.

LaHatte characterized his ability to effect change as a “moral persuasion”.

He said he’s received 23 complaints so far in January, already double what his predecessor received per month, but many of these will be out his jurisdiction — cases of ICANN being blamed for domain theft or a registrar problem, for example.