Accountability is the Word at ICANN-Brussels

Everybody involved in Internet governance is in Brussels. It is one of the largest attendances at an ICANN meeting ever. Famous crypto expert Whit Diffie is here as a new ICANN employee and so is DNS developer Paul Mockapetris. Lawrence Lessig and Jon Zittrain are here for the Internet Society Board meeting. Paul Twomey, the former CEO, has come as “a civilian.” The U.S. Commerce Department is out in force, including Larry Strickling. So is the European Commission.

Accountability is the theme here. It seems to have suddenly dawned on people that ICANN is a private corporation capable of taxing and regulating a critical part of the global internet's infrastructure — and yet it has no members, no shareholders, no competition, and no real legal or regulatory oversight. Perhaps it was the Independent Review Panel's .xxx decision, which ICANN's staff and Board insists is “nonbinding.” Or perhaps it was the creation of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT), which emerged from the new “Affirmation of Commitments” that released ICANN from the direct oversight of the U.S. Commerce Department. The ATRT is already disappointing people, not only for its gradual creeping away from openness, but also because ICANN's President is already making it clear that he is prepared to ignore their conclusions if he doesn't agree with them.

And so a growing chorus of voices from very diverse sources is now raising questions about ICANN's accountability and making proposals about what to do about it. Asked to give one of the usually ceremonial opening speeches, Neelie Kroes, the European Commission Vice President pointedly asked, “Nowadays, how could any organisation with global responsibilities not be accountable to all of us?” Here is a sample of conservatives, liberals, Americans, nonAmericans:

The Kroes speech
The Center for European Policy Studies and the Technology Policy Institute
The Kieren McCarthy blog
The Netchoice blog
The ACT blog

I find this new attention to accountability gratifying. The Internet Governance Project has been hammering away at ICANN's lack of accountability for years. Most recently, we tried to pinpoint what exactly was wrong and came up with this paper. It identifies four basic forms of accountability and shows how ICANN relies exclusively on only one of them (the weakest): the ability to comment or exercise “voice.” Due to that analysis, I never took the Affirmation of Commitments and its ATRT seriously. The ATRT is failing, and must fail, because all it does is add a new form of “voice” to the cacophony of voices already shouting, whispering, cajoling or begging ICANN's Board, which has absolute discretion as to what it does with those advices. Adding more noise to the din (and yet another process to appoint people to make more noises) doesn't make the Board one bit more accountable. As Beckstrom reminded us in his opening speech, “We recognize the right of the Review Team to publicize their views.” Left unstated: there's nothing requiring him to act on them.

14 comments

  1. Anonymous

    Accountability or Irrelevant ?
    “no members, no shareholders, no competition, and no real legal or regulatory oversight”
    and NO PURPOSE
    ICANN can be dissolved at any time and there will not be any impact on the operations of the Internet or the user experience
    As long as people (groupies) attend the lovefests and provide an audience, ICANN will have people to occupy their time
    Verisign is laughing all the way to their price increase
    Note: China is smart and does not attend

  2. Anonymous

    ICANN has dropped DNS from their Mission
    “ICANN's mission is to ensure a secure, stable and unified global Internet,” said Beckstrom.
    Watch for ICANN Re-Organization Plan to match the new Internet ONION Architecture
    ICANN – CORE
    ICANN – EDGE
    ICANN – FRINGE

  3. Anonymous

    ICANN – CORE – .ARPA .NET – Critical, wired in
    ICANN – EDGE – .COM – Essential
    ICANN – FRINGE – .ORG .XXX – Optional

  4. Anonymous

    Looks like .XXX will be handled by ICANN FRINGE INC. – To Be Created – Soon – Real Soon
    Thanks for Playing

  5. Anonymous

    Listening to Peter Dengate Thrush for an hour tells the whole story of the Problem with ICANN.
    He is like an Indy 500 race driver from 1950 determined to show his 100 MPH car can win in 2010.
    He is sure if he can avoid all accidents and be the only one to finish the race he will win.
    Someone needs to tell Peter he will NOT qualify to be in the race with a 100 MPH car. Yes, his leather helmet is cute, but out-dated.
    NewNOG is the place to move forward, not ICANN.
    Note: Listening to NC for 15 minutes and one has all of Avri they need for a year.

  6. Anonymous

    Mission Creep is Everywhere in Brussels
    One downside of holding people “Accountable” is that they then say, “OK, give me something meaty to be accountable for.”
    People with ZERO Internet clue are going to become accountable for a wide range of areas they know nothing about. Great!!!
    Too much money and too many people with way too much time on their hands.

  7. Anonymous

    BOF attendence and participation Eric Brunner-Williams – Jun 22, 2010 11:21 AM PDT
    The room was filled with cc and g operators, non-dns security people, some ICANN staff, and the discussion was lively, interesting, but not yet conclusive of any particular thesis concerning next steps.

  8. Anonymous

    Prediction: ICANN will move more and more into Cyber Security (and Forensics) Products and Services.
    It is sort of ironic that Verisign recently sold their CA business. [Leasing large binary numbers to suckers.]
    ICANN can focus more on WHOIS as they have always done. They can also expand into WHOWAS.
    To ensure the IANA contract renewal, watch for ICANN to expand into RIR Address Space Audits, etc.
    ICANN sees that their growing markets are Governments and Law Enforcement (LEOs).
    Selling new TLDs has no future.
    http://Big.Brother.INC

  9. Anonymous

    As Big Brother, ICANN will of course Sell TLDs to collect vast quantities of business intelligence from the players.
    It is amazing what people and companies will disclose to ICANN to enter a TLD Beauty Contest.
    The .PIMP application can be meshed with .PRO.

  10. Anonymous

    .PIMP and .PRO
    ICANN calls that a Sync'ed TLD
    To be a legal .PRO you have to have a .PIMP
    ICANN wants a cut of all of the action

  11. Anonymous

    ETHICS would be another word to teach ICANN
    Example: Check out the DNSSEC Workshop
    Complexities and details being swept under the rug
    DJB DNSCURVE being stolen and renamed

  12. Anonymous

    Great post and now I know what to do, thank you! Actually this Blog post helped me a lot. I hope you continue writing about this kind of entry.

  13. Anonymous

    TLD Investors who put up $2,000,000 per TLD now asking, “Where's the .BEEF?”
    TLD Brokers issuing press releases to cover their butts

  14. Anonymous

    Where are ICANN Annual Employee Reviews ?
    What do 150 people DO with months between meetings?
    Lunch?