ICANN, Inc.: Accountability and participation in the governance of critical Internet resources

IGP releases today a new paper assessing the relationship between public participation and accountability in ICANN. It explains how ICANN has responded to accountability concerns by creating new opportunities for public comment, review, and participation. Is public participation an adequate means of making this global Internet governance organization accountable to the public?  ICANN is fundamentally a private corporation. Private corporations are held accountable in three ways: 1) directly through their membership or shareholders, 2) through competition, which gives the public the opportunity to avoid their products or services, and 3) through external regulation or supervision by judicial or public authorities. None of these forms of accountability apply to ICANN.  Instead, the public is given a wide range of opportunities to participate in ICANN’s processes and to voice their opinions. This paper questions whether participation is an adequate substitute for accountability. It analyzes three distinct reforms in ICANN’s history to show how participation can displace accountability rather than improve it.

7 comments

  1. Anonymous

    “ICANN is fundamentally a private corporation.”
    ICANN IS a private corporation.
    Has anyone noticed that ICANN seems to want to be MORE private and to avoid any notion of being a governance organization. ?
    Will people allow ICANN to continue to circle the wagons closer and closer ?
    Will the ICANN insiders now just live the good life off their cash cows and tens of millions of dollars in RESERVES ?
    Will the world accelerate their pace in avoiding ICANN and routing around all things ICANN ?
    OR will mis-guided people keep trying to pull ICANN back into the circus tent for the same tired old show ?
    Will those mis-guided people and a reluctant ICANN continue to search for new fools to watch the show ?

  2. Anonymous

    Hi, I'm sorry but I've taken real exception to this paper which I think is beyond bad and bordering on propaganda.
    Happy to have a reasoned debate on either this blog or mine, try to make sense of where you are coming from.
    My critical blog post is here: http://bit.ly/7ijRuv.
    Kieren McCarthy

  3. Anonymous

    Kieren,
    Thanks for your response; downloads of the paper have increased quite a bit thanks to your attack. That being said, I am confident that anyone who actually reads our rather long, academic paper and then reads your attempted critique of it will have no doubt about who has the better of the argument.
    I will address one disappointing aspect of your review. Like so many in ICANN, you characterize structural critiques as “conspiracy theories.” For both you and Veni Markovski, any suggestion that things are going a bit wrong means that bad people are conspiring behind the scenes to deliberately make bad things happen. But that is just a projection of your own superficiality onto others. That aspect of your argument is just wrong, and it is easy to prove:
    Here is how you characterize the paper's argument:
    “All decisions are made by a secretive staff. Efforts are constantly made to mislead people into believing their input has an impact.”
    Here is a direct quote from the paper:
    “I do not suggest that this strategy of substitution
    [of participation for accountability] is a conscious one intended to deceive or mislead the community of actors around ICANN. Rather, I see it as a logical response to the political and organizational tensions inherent in ICANN’s DNA. ICANN
    consists of an all-powerful Board with the legal and organizational authority to rule from
    the top down, yet this Board co-exists with norms and expectations derived from a
    bottom-up standards organization and a government agency. Given this Board’s utter
    independence from the normal forms of accountability associated with the corporate
    model and its obvious self-interest in remaining free of the other forms of accountability,
    ICANN has learned to develop ever-more elaborate and extensive forms of participation as a response to the absence of accountability.”
    I know that as former manager of “public participation” you are personally invested in that project, and the argument made in our paper – that participation detached from accountability can be and often is meaningless – must come as a blow to you. But bear in mind that we are not criticizing you personally, we are addressing basic flaws in ICANN's structure, and in particular the bizarre combination of bottom up, consensus-based standards organization, top-down private corporate board governance model, and democratic representational /legislative body. I agree with you that it is the community around ICANN that often calls for “more participation” – we are criticizing that meme, not ICANN per se, too.

  4. Anonymous

    So, can I suggest approaching this piecemeal:
    The paper's entire thesis is that ICANN is avoiding accountability.
    Why then is there no mention beyond a footnote (no.23) of the 18-month Improving Institutional Confidence consultation that the IGP both blogged and officially commented on?
    And why no mention beyond the footnote of the two very specific bylaw amendments put out to public comment that came from that process, aimed specifically at improved accountability?
    You can find links to all the relevant aspects of this consultation on my blog post: http://kierenmccarthy.com/2009/12/12/igp-warns-of-icann-participation-conspiracy/
    Kieren

  5. Anonymous

    Ok, so no response after four days as to why the IGP paper ignored the Improving Institutional Confidence consultation and the two specific accountability bylaws changes that resulted from it.
    So let's try another:
    Why does the IGP paper ignore the clearly outlined changes and impact caused by participation in the new gTLD process?
    The new gTLD process is the most significant project in ICANN's history and there are a series of specially commissioned papers that go through public comments made to that process, outlining the different perspectives expressed and giving the rationale for subsequent changes.
    Yet in a paper purporting to cover the issue of increased participation, in which the main conclusion is that such participation does not amount to accountability, how does the IGP explain the fact that it completely overlooked this direct and highly public impact of participation?
    Kieren McCarthy

  6. Anonymous

    While ICANN may be moving in the right direction, it is nowhere near its founding principals as described in documents like The White Paper, and The Green Paper before it.
    Bottom line, the ICANN formation process was captured, and the resulting organization is/was *designed* to be opaque and unaccountable to Internet users.
    Whomever pulled the strings in the formation process, continues to hold the levers of power within this dysfunctional organization.
    Glad to see Milton and others are keeping the fire burning.
    Cheers,
    Jay Fenello,
    Founder of Iperdome.com
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