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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.

ICANN appoints new Ombudsman

Kevin Murphy, August 2, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has named Kiwi lawyer Chris LaHatte as its new Ombudsman.

The appointment, which runs for an initial period of two years from July 28, was made during a board meeting last Thursday, and revealed today.

LaHatte said this of his qualifications, on the ICANN blog:

I am an experienced mediator and lawyer and have practiced in New Zealand, Taiwan and Central Asia. I qualified as a lawyer from the University of Auckland and earned a Masters Degree in Dispute Resolution from Massey University, with judicial settlement conferences as my thesis. I am a Fellow of the Arbitrators and Mediators Institute of New Zealand, a mediator for the New Zealand Law Society on cost issues and a construction law adjudicator.

While his experience appears to be primarily in the construction industry, he seems to have at least a bit of domain savvy already, given that he owns his last name under .co.nz.

LaHatte replaces interim Ombudsman Herb Waye, who stood in following the departure of his old Mountie colleague Frank Fowlie, ICANN’s first Ombudsman, who quit in January.

The Ombudsman role was set up to handle complaints about the organization. It is often criticized for being relatively toothless.

ICANN chief gets bonus

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN chief executive Rod Beckstrom is to be paid a bonus potentially as high as $195,000 this year.

Did you know that there were two ICANN board meetings held in Cartagena last week?

I didn’t, but I just spotted that resolutions from a December 8 meeting have been posted on the ICANN web site.

There are only two resolutions. They grant bonuses to Beckstrom and to outgoing ombudsman Frank Fowlie.

The board approved “a proportion” of both men’s “at-risk component”, which basically means their performance-related bonuses.

The resolutions do not specify how big a proportion was approved for either, but it is known that the maximum Beckstrom could have been awarded is $195,000.

His base salary is $750,000.

ICANN ombudsman quits

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Policy

Frank Fowlie, ICANN’s ombudsman, has announced he will leave the post before the end of January next year.

A statement posted to the ICANN web site does not explain the reasons for his departure, but it does include this nugget:

“After six years with ICANN, I have logged 794 days in travel status, or about two years and five months away from home,” said Fowlie in announcing his departure to the ICANN staff. “It’s time for me to spend a bit more time at home with my wonderful wife.”

Read into that what you will.

ICANN will now look for a replacement. The ombudsman’s role is to hear complaints about ICANN’s actions. Former UN staffer Fowlie was the first to hold the position.

For no other reason than I think that it’s funny, here’s a link to a story about Fowlie getting shirty with a flight attendant.