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US government steps back from internet control

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But ICANN has spent so much time living in the shadow of the DoC that it has adopted the same approach of assurances without promises. ICANN board member Susan Crawford claims she has asked "many times" for a clarifying amendment to ICANN's bylaws that would state whether an ICANN board decision takes precedence over a DoC stance. She has never got that agreement because ICANN and the DoC prefer to keep the exact mechanics of their interaction as opaque as possible.

Accountability and transparency

Likewise, the universal criticism that ICANN is neither transparent nor accountable enough has led to "transparency" and "accountability" being the second and third items in its new "affirmation of responsibilities".

Yet, ICANN continues to insist that the issue is one of accessibility of information rather than any actual problems with transparency. When asked to provide examples of how precisely ICANN will tackle the problem, it continues to offer no more than vague notions of consultation with the internet community.

As with the DoC, ICANN has to be boxed in and repeatedly criticised on the same point before it will make any effort to change a system that benefits it.

The same is true for the appeals process within ICANN. The argument put forward by CEO Twomey is that the independent review process of ICANN decisions is there but has never been used. Instead, Twomey argues, organisations have chosen to go to the law courts.

While it is certainly correct that ICANN has had to face countless lawsuits where arbitration would have been more likely used in a country other than the US, ICANN's claim to have an open and simple review process is palpably untrue.

Freelance journalist Edward Hasbrouck has been fighting with ICANN for nearly two years to have his review request processed, and has been purposefully blocked, stymied, and ignored every step of the way. Hasbrouck reportedly dominated a press conference over the new DoC contract, asking for a response to his requests for further information on the independent review process. It is unclear whether he will receive it.

The uncomfortable truth

But amid the uncomfortable truths surrounding ICANN and the issue of internet governance there is one that goes unsaid but which will soon have the spotlight shone on it: the interaction of the internet community itself.

ICANN-bashing is a popular pasttime, but with even the most fervent critics accepting that the organisation is here to stay, an equally big change of heart by the net community is required in its interaction with ICANN. Weak promises and woolly assurances aside, the autonomy of the internet's overseeing organisation is now as much in the internet community's hands as it is the US government's.

As one United Nations official remarked at the recent World Summit in Tunisia, where ICANN won its future: "The solution is not to find a way of making people happy, it is to come up with a compromise that everyone dislikes in equal measure."

Related links

ICANN and DoC Joint Project Agreement
ICANN's Affirmation of Responsibilities

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