The future health of the internet comes down to ONE simple question…
Can ICANN be forced to agree to oversight of its decisions?
Some examples of why no oversight would be a very bad idea
Here are some quick examples showing why it’s a bad idea to leave ICANN to decide for itself what it is allowed to do with the central core of the internet:
ICANN has received millions of dollars in application fees that it sets and that it can change. As its budget has more than doubled, both the staff and the board have decided they need to pay themselves more. As an independent review commissioned by ICANN noted, “compensation paid for service on non-profit boards is rare, reported by 16 per cent of non-profit organisations...”. ICANN is, of course, a non-profit organisation – yet, as page 16 of the report notes, “the vast majority of not-for-profit organizations continue to provide no compensation to board members.”
When ICANN lost an independent review into how it had handled a controversial application for a new internet extension (quick version: it cocked it up spectacularly), the organisation’s lawyers simply changed the rules so it would be less likely to lose next time.
When US government surveillance revelations threatened to undermine ICANN, the organisation spent hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of dollars lobbying other governments. It also bankrolled the NetMundial conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, throwing an undisclosed sum into sponsoring smaller events within the conference where senior ICANN personnel spoke. ICANN also set up a grassroots campaign to defend itself – a practice known as astroturfing. 1Net, supposedly an industry forum open to all views and perspectives, was in fact funded by ICANN, which hosted its website and bore the costs of 1Net meetings. It disintegrated after ICANN was pressured into withdrawing funding.
The board then passed a measure approving the expense and activity and simply backdated it to make it appear official.
A news report dated November 2013 from the Internet Commerce Association, a “non-profit trade organisation representing domain name investors”, said:
ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade told members of its GNSO Council in Buenos Aires this morning that his recent initiatives resulting in the recent Montevideo Statement on Internet governance and the spring 2014 meeting on this subject to be held in Brazil were sanctioned by a September 15th ICANN Board resolution that has been withheld from the public, but will [be] published shortly.
When companies have repeatedly questioned ICANN about how decisions affecting their companies and applications have been made, they have been told that can’t see the relevant documents, or the discussion behind the conclusion – as happened to Amazon (PDF, 18 pages) when it asked to see information about how its application for the “.amazon” domain was handled.
If they wish, they can appeal – to a subset of the board itself. This past year, the Board Governance Committee has received 50 requests. So far only a single one has been accepted - and that one was so cut-and-dried that it’s amazing it took four months for ICANN to agree.
The last appeal mechanism against board decisions – the Board Reconsideration Committee - was disbanded in 2009 following heavy criticism that it was not independent since it contained only board members and overwhelmingly found in the board's favour. A review into the organisation's accountability (PDF) called for it to be reviewed.
The Board Reconsideration Committee was replaced by another committee - the Board Governance Committee - that, again, contains only board members. It was criticised for the exact same reasons as the BRC was in 2012. Another review seen by the Register said of the BGC: "The BGC is comprised exclusively of existing Board members, it is therefore not independent… the grounds that must be satisfied to sustain a Reconsideration request is seen by some as constraining the ability of the community to use this process. Additionally, the history of Reconsideration request resolution and the publication of the proceedings and decisions do not reflect sufficient clarity and consistency to satisfy transparency expectations."
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