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Nominet under fire for lack of transparency

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2013, Domain Policy

Nominet has raised the ire of critics of its Direct.uk proposal for refusing to engage with them, including forcibly ejecting one of their number from a .uk policy meeting.

Opponents of Direct.uk, which would open .uk’s second-level for the first time, have cataloged a number of instances of Nominet apparently failing to act in a transparent manner over the last few weeks.

Most notably, domainer Stephen Wilde of Really Useful Domains, author of a paper critical of Direct.uk, was “escorted” by hotel security staff from a recent policy discussion co-hosted by Nominet.

Domain lawyer Paul Keating was also refused entry and left without an escort.

The event was jointly hosted with the British Computer Society and the Digital Policy Alliance and was restricted to BCS members.

Wilde said that he had joined BCS specifically in order to attend the meeting and had then spent four hours on a train to get there. He said that there were plenty of empty seats in the venue.

Nominet spokesperson Elaine Quinn told DI that Nominet’s goal is to get as diverse a range of views as possible.

Wilde had already attended multiple previous meetings on the same topic and had been quite vocal at those, it seems. Nominet was worried that he might prevent other voices from being heard at the BCS event.

Quinn posted a statement to Nominet’s members-only forums, which was provided to DI, which read in part:

Two individuals who had been informed that they would not be able to attend in advance nonetheless turned up. Both initial requests to join were polite and were met in turn with a polite response. When the decision to deny entry was repeated, one person continued to remonstrate with our staff. He was then asked to leave the private area (not the hotel) by the hotel security. Upon refusal, the hotel security guard escorted the individual out of the area.

Colleagues at the event felt that the behaviour exhibited was unacceptable and that steps to protect our staff and to allow the event to proceed as planned were, unfortunately, necessary.

The BCS meeting was the latest in a series of controversies that have been raised by Direct.uk’s opponents and cataloged on the pseduonymous blog NominetWatch.com, which claims Nominet is trying to “silence dissenting voices”.

Another of its posts relates to the UK Network Operators Forum, an event on Friday in London.

A Nominet executive had been scheduled to speak at the event and others were due to attend, but all withdrew after the company discovered that Emily Taylor, its former head of policy and now one of its fiercest critics, was also speaking.

Taylor’s presentation (pdf) criticized Nominet’s lack of transparency, comparing it to ICANN’s relatively open culture.

Quinn confirmed that Nominet’s would-be attendees withdrew from the event, but said that this was because they were technical staff not qualified to speak to Taylor’s governance-focused criticisms.

NominetWatch also recently blogged about the fact that Nominet recently closed the comments on a blog post about Direct.uk, suggesting it was intended to stifle debate.

Quinn confirmed that comments were closed, but said it was a temporary measure while Nominet, which had staff on vacation, sifted through some of the many defamatory comments that had been submitted.

Comments have since been reopened and a backlog, many of which are critical of Nominet, have been published.

ICANN cancels Fridays. Bad for transparency.

Kevin Murphy, May 2, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s next public meeting, and all its public meetings thereafter, will be a day shorter than usual, following a decision to cancel the regular Friday morning program.

No Friday means no public meeting of the board of directors.

While the move is being characterized as an effort to enhance the effectiveness of ICANN’s board – a particular concern, frequently voiced, of chairman Steve Crocker – it’s also a perplexing shift away from ICANN’s core tenet of transparency.

One of the effects could be to mask dissent on the board.

From now on, it appears that all of ICANN’s top-level decision-making will happen in private.

Instead of wrapping up each public meeting with a board session at which resolutions get voted on, each meeting will instead be book-ended by less formal “community sessions”.

During these sessions, the board will apparently report to attendees about what it has been doing since the last meeting and what it plans to do before the next meeting.

Crocker said in a statement:

We believe that the removal of the Friday public Board meeting and its replacement with two Board community sessions will improve the effectiveness of both the Board and the staff and increase the time that the Board has to interact with the community.

That may well be true — time will tell — but let’s look at what the ICANN community is almost certainly losing.

First, there will be no more transcripts of board meetings at all.

Today, only the public meetings have published recordings and transcripts. Intersessional meetings are minuted, but not transcribed. If recordings are made, they are not published.

Killing off transcripts completely is a pretty obvious step backwards for an organization committed by its bylaws to “operate to the maximum extent feasible in an open and transparent manner”.

Second, if there is dissent on the board, it will be essentially shielded from the community’s view for some time after the fact.

Take, for example, the approval of the new gTLD program or the approval of ICM Registry’s .xxx contract – the two most controversial decisions ICANN made in 2011.

In both cases, certain directors read prepared statements into the record harshly criticizing the majority view.

In March 2011, for example, George Sadowsky stated that ICM’s purported community support for .xxx was “illusory” and that approving the TLD could lead to DNS Balkanization.

And with new gTLDs last June, Mike Silber abstained in the belief that the program was incomplete and that the vote had been scheduled “based on artificial and ego-driven deadlines”.

In both cases, the ICANN community heard the dissenting views – in person, webcast, recorded and transcribed – moments before the vote actually took place.

With no public board meetings, it seems likely that in future that we’re going to have to wait a week to read the voting record for any given resolution and a month or more to read directors’ statements.

Under ICANN’s bylaws, the voting record, which breaks down who voted for and against resolutions, is contained in a preliminary report that is not published for seven days after the vote.

Also under the bylaws, directors’ voting statements are not published until the minutes of the meeting are approved at the board’s next meeting, typically one to two months later.

If the new procedures had been in effect last year, the statements of Sadowsky and Silber would not have been published for over a month after they were made.

With that in mind, it’s clear that killing off the public board meetings could in no way be seen as a positive step for transparency at ICANN.

It’s true that these meetings have for several years been pure theater, but it was theater with value.