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ICANN threatens to regulate your speech [RANT]

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2024, Domain Policy

ICANN wants to know if it’s okay if it regulates your speech, even when you’re not doing ICANN stuff.

Acting CEO Sally Costerton has floated the idea of extending ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior into things people say in their everyday lives.

The notion came up in ICANN’s response (pdf) to consultant Jeff Neuman, who recently complained to the Org about a TV interview given by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, a prominent member of the intellectual property community in the Middle-East.

In the interview on Jordanian TV last October, Abu-Ghazaleh made some outrageously anti-Semitic remarks and appeared to suggest the Holocaust was a good thing.

His TAG-Org business has at least three ties to ICANN. It’s an accredited registrar, it’s involved in an approved UDRP provider, and it hosts an instance of ICANN’s L-root DNS root server.

Neuman said that ICANN should not associate with racists and should remove TAG-Org’s L-root instance and relocate it to another organization in Jordan or elsewhere the Middle-East.

It took a few months to get a response, but now Costerton has written back to Neuman “to make it absolutely clear that hate speech has no place in ICANN’s multistakeholder process”:

She said that ICANN has “reached out directly to inform Talal Abu Ghazaleh and TAG-Org that their hate speech violates ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior” and “referred this matter to the Office of the Ombuds to investigate and make further recommendations.”

Costerton concludes:

Although your letters are specifically about TAG-Org, they also point to a larger question that has not yet been addressed by the ICANN community. Specifically what role, if any, should ICANN have in addressing egregious conduct that violates the Expected Standards of Behavior to the extent that it could cause significant reputational harm to ICANN and the multistakeholder model if left unaddressed? This is an area for which there is currently no policy or community guidance. In its absence, it is difficult to know how to weigh potentially competing issues. For example, your letters reference free speech questions. This incident has made it clear that as a community we need to discuss this further in the coming weeks and months.

This brief reference to the “free speech” implications of taking action may be a clue that ICANN is actually just trying to preemptively weasel out of actually doing anything about TAG-Org. Neuman seems to think that’s a possibility.

But let’s take Costerton’s letter at face value. ICANN is now talking about extending its Expected Standards of Behavior to things people say when they’re not doing ICANN community stuff.

The ESB is ICANN’s take on codified politeness, banning all the -isms and -phobias from ICANN community conduct. It’s supplemented by the Community Anti-Harassment Policy, which is referenced in Costerton’s letter (pdf) to TAG-Org and which among many other things bans swearing.

Participants are reminded of applicability of these policies whenever they walk into an ICANN conference center or log in to a Zoom call.

That, as far as I’m concerned, is where it should begin and end — when you’re in an ICANN meeting or participating on a mailing list, play nice. ICANN’s house, ICANN’s rules.

Abu-Ghazaleh spouted some pretty incredibly racist stuff, but he did so in a media appearance. He wasn’t on TV to discuss ICANN, or domain names, or intellectual property. He was talking about the attacks in Israel and Gaza.

ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior have no jurisdiction over Jordanian TV. Or, indeed, any news media.

ICANN as a private organization would of course be well within its rights to just unilaterally remove the Amman L-root. It refuses to take money from alt-roots. It refuses to work with convicted pirates. Surely refusing to work with a Holocaust supporter isn’t too much of a stretch.

But the idea that ICANN’s rules on personal conduct should extend outside the grey, windowless walls of an ICANN convention center, or that ICANN employees should be the judges of whether something is or isn’t offensive… nah.

Remember, a lot of these people are Californians.

Kirikos lawyers up after ICANN etiquette fight

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2018, Domain Policy

Domain investor George Kirikos has hired lawyers to send nastygrams to ICANN after a fight over the rules of etiquette on a working group mailing list.
Kirikos claims there’s a “campaign of intimidation” against him by fellow volunteers who do not agree with his opinions and forthright tone, but that he “has not done anything wrong”.
In response, ICANN CEO Goran Marby this evening revealed that he has assigned his general counsel and new deputy, John Jeffrey, to the case.
Even by ICANN standards, it’s a textbook case of a) manufacturing mountains out of molehills, and b) how it can become almost impossible to communicate like sensible human beings when everyone’s tangled in red tape.
The dispute started back in May, when Kirikos got into a fight with IP lawyer Greg Shatan on the mailing list of the Rights Protection Mechanisms working group.
Both men are volunteers on the group, which seeks to refine ICANN policy protecting trademark owners in gTLDs.
The argument was about the content of a World Intellectual Property Organization web page listing instances of UDRP cases being challenged in court.
Kirikos took a strident tone, to which Shatan took exception.
Shatan then reported Kirikos to the working group’s co-chairs, claiming a breach of the Expected Standards of Behavior — the informal code of conduct designed to prevent every ICANN discussion turning into a flame war and/or bare-knuckle alley fight.
Under GNSO PDP rules, working group volunteers have to agree to abide by the ESB. Group chairs have the ability to kick participants who repeatedly offend.
At this point, the sensible thing to do would have been for Shatan and Kirikos to hug it out and move on.
But this is ICANN.
What actually happened was a pointless procedural back-and-forth between Kirikos, Shatan, and working group chairs Phil Corwin of Verisign and Brian Beckham of WIPO, which resulted in Kirikos hiring two lawyers — Andrew Bernstein of Torys and regular ICANN participant Robin Gross of IP Justice.
It’s believed to be the first time a WG participant has hired counsel over a mailing list argument.
Far too boring to recount here, Corwin’s timeline of events can be found from page 24 of this transcript (pdf) of remarks delivered here in Barcelona during ICANN 63, while the Bernstein/Kirikos timeline can be found here (pdf).
The rub of it is that Kirikos reckons both Corwin and Beckham are biased against him — Beckham because Kirikos voted against his chairship, Corwin because of a similar dispute in a related working group earlier this year — and that the ESB is unenforceable anyway.
According to Bernstein: “Mr. Kirikos has strong concerns that whatever process ICANN purports to operate with respect to Mr. Shatan’s complaint, it will not be fairly or neutrally adjudicated.”
He added that Kirikos had said that “due to the precise language of Section 3.4 of the Working Group Guidelines, Mr. Shatan lacked a basis to initiate any complaint”.
That language allows complaints to be filed if the ESB is “abused”. According to Corwin’s account, Kirikos — well-known as a detail-oriented ICANN critic — reckons the correct term should be “violated”, which rendered the ESB “null and void and unenforceable” in this instance.
Bernstein has since added that the ICANN board of directors never intended the ESB to be anything but voluntary.
The sum of this appears to be that the dispute has had a chilling effect on the RPM working group’s ability to get anything done, consuming much of its co-chairs’ time.
Kirikos lawyering up seems to have compounded this effect.
Now, as ICANN 63 drew to a close this evening, CEO Marby said in a brief prepared statement that the WG’s work has “more or less stalled for the last several months” and that he’s assigned general counsel John Jeffrey to “look into the issues surrounding this matter”.
ICANN “takes the issue very seriously”, he said.
As well it might. The Kirikos/Shatan incident may have been blown waaaaay out of proportion, but at its core is a serious question about civil discourse in ICANN policy-making.
Personally, I hold out hope it’s not too late for everyone to hug it out and move on.
But this is ICANN.