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ICANN Ombudsman let go as role comes up for review

Kevin Murphy, June 29, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman, Chris LaHatte, has been told his services are no longer needed.

His current contract expires July 27, but he’s been informed that it will not be renewed.

No reason has been given for the move.

Herb Waye, who took the role on an interim basis in 2011 after the departure of former Ombusdman Frank Fowlie, will step in again while ICANN looks for a permanent replacement.

LaHatte will continue on as an adviser during the transition.

The decision to replace LaHatte comes as the ICANN community begins on so-called Work Stream 2 of the IANA transition process, which includes a review of the role of the Ombudsman in ICANN’s power structure.

The Ombudsman’s job is currently to adjudicate on matters of fairness in ICANN’s activities.

He or she reports to the board and any advice given is non-binding.

ICANN pimps new sexual harassment rules

Kevin Murphy, May 17, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN has proposed new anti-harassment guidelines for its community that would ban “unwelcome hostile or intimidating behavior”.

It wants your comments on the changes to its longstanding “Expected Standards of Behavior” document, which applies to both its in-person meetings and online discussions and mailing lists.

The proposed addition to the document reads like this:

Respect all members of the ICANN community equally and behave according to professional standards and demonstrate appropriate behavior. ICANN strives to create and maintain an environment in which people of many different backgrounds and cultures are treated with dignity, decency, and respect. Specifically, participants in the ICANN process must not engage in any type of harassment. Generally, harassment is considered unwelcome hostile or intimidating behavior — in particular, speech or behavior that is sexually aggressive or intimidates based on attributes such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion, age, color, national origin, ancestry, disability or medical condition, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The definition of harassment has been borrowed almost directly from the Internet Engineering Task Force’s policy on harassment, which was signed off in 2013.

ICANN has added the words “ethnicity” and “medical condition” to the IETF’s list of protected characteristics, but has not included the IETF’s list of examples:

the use of offensive language or sexual imagery in public presentations and displays, degrading verbal comments, deliberate intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

The changes were prompted by a recent allegation of sexual harassment at an ICANN meeting which divided the community on whether the alleged incident amounted to sexual harassment or not.

ICANN’s Ombudsman, Chris LaHatte, concluded that whatever took place “cannot be considered serious”, but he did not make a formal finding.

LaHatte has already endorsed the proposed change to the expected standards document.

It does not seem unreasonable to me, at first glance, either.

What do you think? ICANN has opened a public comment period that closes June 25, to find out.

“Cheese sandwich” comment blamed for sexual harassment complaint

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN’s first formal case of sexual harassment has been closed with no official finding by the Ombudsman.

Ombudsman Chris LaHatte today said he was unable to establish the facts of the alleged incident, which is said to have taken place during a coffee break at the ICANN 55 meeting in Marrkech, March 6.

LaHatte said that the complainant’s decision to publicly name the man she says harassed her had “compromised” his investigation and that the alleged actions of the man “cannot be considered serious”.

It also emerged publicly for the first time that the interaction that led to the complaint was a brief conversation about sandwiches.

LaHatte’s report on the incident says:

The allegation was that she had a relatively brief discussion with a man, which she found derogatory and which she considered was sexual harassment. The description was that he leaned towards her and took her ICANN identification tag. There was a general discussion about the food, and she said that he made the comment, “you can go make me a cheese sandwich”

But the complainant told DI a slightly different version of events that she said is more accurate:

[The man] approached me, pulled at my name tag, examined it and dropped it. A little later, he lifted my name tag and flipped it back and forth, asking me “Where are you from?”, leaned in, lecherously looked at me and then said, “do you know how to make a cheese sandwich?” I was taken aback and responded angrily with “Yes, that is why I came here, to make you cheese sandwiches.” He went on to throw another lecherous look my way and said, “Well, I love veg sandwiches.”

According to LaHatte, the man in question flatly denies that the incident even took place.

The complainant says the incident can be defined as sexual harassment under the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Indian law (she is Indian), and the ICANN corporate policy against sexual harassment among its staff.

Neither party is a member of ICANN staff.

LaHatte says in his report that he has not considered jurisdiction or matters of definition, given that he was unable to even establish the facts of the incident.

In this complaint, the matters alleged cannot be considered serious by any standard. If in fact the action and statement were made, it may have been a lapse of good manners and insensitive to gender. Such issues need to be taken in proportion, and best practice is not to debate this in a public forum where the issues are not yet clear…

However any chance of discussing the comments has been compromised by the decision to identify the other party before my investigation could be completed, and for the parties to have had a full opportunity to consider the alternative versions. The other party has been publically named without an opportunity to make any comment or denial of the incident. It is also part of my role as the ombudsman to ensure that standards of procedural fairness are met, and the premature publication regrettably does not meet the standards of natural justice, because the parties have a right to be heard before this occurred.

LaHatte names the complainant (who waived her right to confidentiality) but not the man (who didn’t) in his report.

The man has apparently considered legal action over his public naming.

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.