EU to Obama: Privatize ICANN, Internationalize Oversight

Saying that “A moment of truth will come on 30 September this year,” European Commissioner Viviane Reding proposed a reformed model of global Internet governance. Release of the proposal was timed to enable discussion of it at the May 6th 2009 consultations in Brussels. (IGP will attend and has submitted a proposal.) In Reding's statement, she expressed support for the basic model of a privatized, independent ICANN and pressed President Obama to complete the job. Perhaps overestimating the significance of the termination of the Joint Project Agreement on September 30, she noted that “this also raises the question of to whom ICANN should be accountable, as from 1 October.” To address ICANN's accountability issues, she made two interesting proposals. First, she called for an “small, independent international tribunal” that would provide “full judicial review of ICANN decisions.” Such an approach, she claimed, would be better than reliance on the state courts of California. Second, Reding called for the creation of a “multilateral forum” exclusively for a selected group of governments. The UN, she noted, could not act swiftly and efficiently enough and so opted for a “less formal” international forum. The Forum would be a “Group of 12 for Internet Governance.” It would meet twice a year, and could by majority vote make “recommendations” to ICANN where appropriate. Two members would come from North Americam two from South America, two from Europe, two from Africa, and 3 from Asia/Australia (her term).

Reding did not specify how the international tribunal would differ from ICANN's existing Independent Review Process, although it sounds as if standing would be broadened. As she put it, “all people, companies, bodies or organisations affected by ICANN decisions should have a right to request full judicial review of ICANN decisions…” The multilateral oversight group (G12-IG) raises many more questions. Why is the EU reverting from multi-stakeholderism and proposing a governments-only forum? What is the remit or boundary on the G12-IG's recommendations? What is the status of its recommendations; i.e., how binding would they be on ICANN? What becomes of the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) in ICANN and of the Internet Governance Forum? Would GAC be eliminated, and IGF disbanded, if the multilateral body is created? Will a G12-IG require a treaty? How does it relate to the IANA contract, which is not expiring September 30? While the proposal bears superficial similarity to the Burr-Cade proposal for an Internet governance “security council” Reding's paper did not give it formal authority over additions/deletions to the root zone file, which is a relief.

Reding's proposal lacks specificity in certain regards but it is a welcome step forward in advancing the dialogue around ICANN and the role of states in internet governance.

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