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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.

Call for ICANN to dump anti-Semitic partner

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2023, Domain Policy

A senior Jewish member of the ICANN community is calling on the Org to end its partnership with a company run by a Palestine-born Jordanian businessman who recently broadcast some outrageously anti-Semitic remarks.

Jeff Neuman of JJN Solutions and Dot Hip Hop, who has spent the last quarter-century involved in countless ICANN community roles, made the plea in an open letter he posted on his blog today following remarks by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh on Jordanian TV on October 12.

The letter follows an exchange at the ICANN Annual General Meeting in Hamburg last week in which Neuman raised concerns about some on-site graffiti that he considered anti-Semitic.

Abu-Ghazaleh’s comments, rather than being just some coded anti-Semitic dog-whistles, appear to directly attempt to justify the Holocaust, according to a translation by Middle-East media monitoring organization MEMRI.

Along with some less-extreme anti-Semitic tropes, he said, during an interview discussing the war in Gaza:

The Jews do not have any ideology. All they care about is money and interests. I had a friend who was a German cabinet member. I once asked him: ‘When Hitler, may God forgive him, carried out the Holocaust, why didn’t he finish the job and kill all the Jews?’ He said to me: ‘It’s the other way around, but don’t tell anyone I said this. He left a group of them on purpose, so that people would know why we carried out the Holocaust. When you would be tormented by them, you would know the reason.’

It turns out the Talal Abu-Ghazzaleh Organization (TAG-Org) that he runs hosts an instance of ICANN’s L-root server in Jordan — one of scores of redundant nodes at data centers around the world — and Neuman wants this relationship terminated.

Revealing that family members were killed in the Holocaust, he says in his letter to ICANN leadership:

I believe ICANN must take immediate action to remove this instance from TAG-Org and find a new home for this instance. In addition, ICANN should make an unequivocal statement ASAP that it does not condone such hate speech and that it will not have any partnerships whose founders or leaders espouse such views.

TAG-Org’s relationship with ICANN does not stop at the L-root instance, however. Abu-Ghazaleh is a noted champion of intellectual property rights in the Middle-East region and his companies are naturally involved in the domain industry and ICANN community.

TAG-Domains, part of Abu-Ghazaleh Intellectual Property (AGIP), is an ICANN-accredited registrar specializing in brand protection services. It has only about 1,200 gTLD domains under management.

And the group seems to be intimately involved with the Arab Center for Dispute Resolution, the only ICANN-approved UDRP service provider in the region. It was approved in 2013 with an application managed by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Legal and there appears to be an ongoing relationship.

Neuman, who makes it clear he is not currently holding ICANN at fault for its partnerships, does not appear to be calling for ICANN to end these other relationships with the Abu-Ghazaleh group and I don’t think the Registrar Accreditation Agreement has a morality clause anyway.

Since Abu-Ghazaleh’s comments have come to light, two IP news publications — Managing IP and IAM — have publicly distanced themselves from him.

Managing IP said it was reviewing all awards it had given to AGIP and removing the company’s profile from its site, while IAM said it was removing Abu-Ghazaleh from its IP Hall of Fame.

While to my knowledge Neuman is the only person to date to ask ICANN for a similar censure, his voice does carry weight. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone else in the community who’s put in as many hours and knows as much about ICANN policy-making.

I think it’s quite likely ICANN will say something condemning racism in response; I’m less certain that it will pull the plug on the Amman L-root or do anything concrete to distance itself from the Abu-Ghazaleh companies.

ICANN chair Tripti Sinha has already expressed dismay at graffiti that Neuman considered anti-Semitic that appeared for 24 hours on a mural at ICANN 78 in Hamburg last week.

Saying on Twitter that the graffiti implied endorsement of the murder of Jews and that he felt unsafe at an ICANN meeting for the first time, Neuman used the Public Forum last Thursday to ask ICANN’s board of directors to condemn such behavior.

“This is not the place to make statements like that,” Sinha said, referring to the graffiti. “This is meant to be a safe place for discourse and interchange of ideas. so please do not engage in any kind of political dialogue and hurtful dialogue.”