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ICANN loads dice in reform process

Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose

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The last glimmer of hope that Internet overseeing organisation ICANN may be planning to make itself more relevant was snuffed out yesterday when it chose two key people to push through this year's reform process.

One role was chairman of the committee that would oversee the actions of ICANN's Board and the other was the representative of all the countries of the world. Both roles are vital in fostering a sense of trust in ICANN by the global Internet community before it tries to assume control over the entire Internet.

Its decision to appoint Hans Kraaijenbrink and Tony Staley respectively will thus be accompanied by much shaking of heads-in-hands across the globe.

Mr Kraajenbrink will become chair of the Board Governance Committee. His job will be to evaluate what job the committee should do and how it should do it and then submit that charter to the Board for approval.

Mr Kraajenbrink is not only on the ICANN board of directors, he was one of the original nine directors in 1998. He is also one of the infamous "board squatters" who continue to vote themselves in as directors year after year. He has defended every action that the Board has ever made and has been responsible for several appalling decisions himself. He is, in short, probably the person the most unsuited in the world to head up the Board Governance Committee.

Mr Staley on the other hand is to represent all the country-code domains across the world. This is an extremely important job as it is the owners of country domains who are most resistant to signing up to ICANN authority. They do not want to sign away their independence to a body which has never show any signs of listening to them.

Just last week, the president of ICANN, Stuart Lynn, was promising ccTLDs that he did not wish to interfere with countries' domains and that they would be given a stronger voice in ICANN deliberations.

Mr Staley was appointed "delegate to the Nominating Committee in the position designated to be filled by the Country-Code Names Supporting Organization after it is established" after a consultation period of just five working days.

On Tuesday 4 March 2003, ICANN asked for suggestions for a delegate to the Nominating Committee. On Wednesday 12 March, Mr Staley was appointed. It is inconceivable that ICANN did not know it was planning to fill this position months in advance, yet those with most at stake in the position were given just five days to respond.

Mr Staley is virtually unknown within the Internet community, which makes him an odd choice immediately. However, he is extremely well known in his home country of Australia. He is a former president of the country's Liberal Party. He is a life-long friend of the country's prime minister John Howard and a close associate of the Greatest Luddite in the World, Richard Alston.

He is the unelected chairman of the au. Domain Administration Corporation, the for-profit company that was controversially awarded the Australian Internet domain by ICANN at the end of 2001 after the Australian prime minister wrote to ICANN asking for control. After the redelegation, Australia became the biggest country to sign up to ICANN's new terms and conditions.

As a politician, Mr. Staley was called "twisted in body, twisted in mind" by former Australian prime minister Paul Keating who blamed him for dirty tricks, leaked false press reports and public hounding that continued years after Mr Keating was no longer in office.

Leading opposition politician Mark Latham also created a fuss earlier this year when he called Mr Staley a "deformed character" - a remark taken to be a direct reference to Mr Staley's crippled stature from a car crash in 1990 that sees him use two walking sticks.

Mr Staley is also chairman of: the Energy and Water Industry Ombudsman Board, eSec, the Australian Photonics Co-operative Research Centre, and the Council of the National Museum of Australia. He is also touted as a possible board member for Australian government-owned TV company ABC when a key member is replaced later this month.

In short, Mr Staley is a politician through and through with little understanding of the Internet and someone who is very friendly with ICANN. Again, there can be few people in the world less suited to taking on the job that ICANN has just awarded him.

These two appointments will fit in perfectly with the likely new CEO of ICANN - Dr Paul Twomey - a former government official who is as far from a democratic Internet techie as you can get. He has also, according to ICANN watchdog site ICANN Watch, benefitted financially from being chair of ICANN government advisory committee to the tune of tens of thousands of US dollars through his Argo consulting company.

So, with a ICANN reform sold as the answer to the Internet prayers, we have no reason at all to expect anything other than "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose". ®

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