Reforming ICANN Oversight: A Historic Opportunity

IGP today responded to a U.S. Department of Commerce proceeding seeking comment on the future of its political oversight over ICANN. The proceeding is part of a mid-term review of ICANN's 3-year Joint Project Agreement (JPA) with the U.S. Commerce Department NTIA.

In a move that is likely to attract attention and debate we called for ICANN and the U.N. Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to forge an agreement to institute a bi-annual review and public consultation concerning ICANN’s record and accountability. These ideas will be raised both at the U.S. Commerce Department public meeting February 28 and at the public consultation of the IGF in Geneva February 26.

“We look forward to replacing the JPA with new forms of oversight rooted in the global Internet community,” the comments said. “The IGF is an appropriately neutral, nongovernmental platform for discussion and the development of non-binding reports and recommendations.” Biennial review by the multi-stakeholder IGF would serve as a kind of “soft oversight,” an experimental approach with more international legitimacy than any of the available alternatives.

The JPA, like the Memoranda of Understanding which preceded it, was designed to be a checklist of policy-oriented tasks that must be performed to the US Government’s satisfaction. IGP believes that the JPA has served its purpose in nudging ICANN forward towards more mature governance practices. It is no longer appropriate for the U.S. government to set policy priorities for a global governance institution such as ICANN.

ICANN still has serious accountability problems but it can fix those by instituting five specific reforms, four of which are either already in the works or already being considered. If those tasks are accomplished by September 2009, IGP believes that the JPA should be terminated.

The reforms we call for are as follows:

1. ICANN Supporting Organizations and the At Large Advisory Committee should be empowered to hold a “vote of no confidence” in the Board or the CEO, which would result in the recall of those SO's Board members or the dismissal of the existing CEO and hiring of another.

2. ICANN must complete the process of instituting the reforms in GNSO representational structure proposed by the ICANN Board Governance Committee

3. ICANN must change the Independent Review Procedure to follow the recommendations of the One World Trust report

4. ICANN must allocate a certain portion of ICANN’s budget to the support of a staff/secretariat that reports directly to the Board chairman and is independent of the CEO.

5. ICANN and the UN Internet Governance Forum should agree to conduct a bi-annual review and public consultation concerning ICANN’s record and accountability.

The comments also address the argument, made by a few Washington-based organizations, that the JPA should be continued and leveraged as a way of “protecting the DNS against interference by governments.”

The IANA contract is the real source of ICANN’s authority over the DNS, and the key to U.S. authority over ICANN. Ending the JPA only removes the U.S. from the business of specifying particular policies and practices, which is a good thing. U.S. authority over the IANA function will remain controversial and troublesome to the rest of the world regardless of what happens to the JPA. Trying to use the JPA to expand or extend U.S. authority over the Internet would only make the situation worse.

The complete comments are available on the IGP site:

5 comments

  1. Anonymous

    So you are proposing that a UN chosen group of people. (the MAG), whose meeting minutes are not made public “oversee” a bottom-up, open, body whose meeting minutes and Board selection processes are much more transparent than the IGF?? Howzat make sense?

  2. Anonymous

    I'm not sure that he's talking about the MAG doing so, but the IGF doing so as a plenary body including all stakeholders directly. But that doesn't detract from your point that the MAG also needs reform, and even more so than ICANN.

  3. Anonymous

    That's even more bizarre! A collection of people, undefined, unincorporated and unaccountable providing oversight, no matter how “soft”, to a defined, incorporated non-profit, governed by a Board largely selected by a bottom up process?

  4. Anonymous

    Hmm, sounds like you think the IETF, which is a “collection of people, undefined, unincorporated and formally unaccoutable,” shouldn't be setting Internet standards!
    So is your position that ICANN needs no external oversight? Before getting into that debate, would you mind disclosing your relationship to ICANN, Mr. Anonymous?
    The IGF is an organization. It has a Secretariat, and a defined process. It is composed of a broader segment of the community of people interested in Internet governance than ICANN (which is dominated by the domain name industry suppliers), and is not unaccountable in that it can be abolished by the UN if it gets out of line.

  5. Anonymous

    Hmmm, sounds like you are putting words in people's mouths again!
    It is MY position that ICANN needs no external oversight by governments, which is what your proposal would do. If you want to play into the hands of the Chinese, Saudis, Russians, et.al, you are on the right path, as the IGF is currently dominated by gov't reps. Where in the UN docs does it specify a mechanism to abolish the IGF? It can be not renewed, but abolished? I think not.
    As for identity of the above anonymous, if you hadn't wanted people to comment anonymously, then you shouldn't have a blog that lets them do just that.
    As for me, I just can't be bothered to login. To quote Bart Simpson “You know the answer, I know the answer, she knows the answer”