Meltdown IV: How ICANN resists accountability

If you wanted to make ICANN’s Board and Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) accountable, would you put the chairman of ICANN’s Board and the Chair of the GAC in charge of running a committee of ICANN decision makers to assess its accountability? Let’s ask it in another way: if you wanted to make a big bank accountable for its mortgage lending practices, would you let the bank’s CEO and board chair select the committee and run the process?

The US Commerce Department’s 2009 Affirmation of Commitments was supposed to be one of the solutions to ICANN’s accountability problems. It created an “Accountability and Transparency Review Team” (ATRT) to review ICANN’s activities and (supposedly) provide some form of critical assessment of its performance. The ATRT was put in place to address the concerns of people who feared what might happen when the US Commerce Department ended its Memorandum of Understanding, which the US government used to give ICANN instructions.

When the Affirmation was first announced, IGP analyzed it and we scratched our heads. The Review Team is composed of a bunch of people who are already involved in and responsible for what ICANN has done. It is headed by the Chairman of ICANN’s Board, the Chair of the GAC, and a representative of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Its other members are put there by people who are already involved in ICANN. In effect, this group reviews what they themselves did! It then issues a non-binding report, which the people who run ICANN can then decide to follow or ignore, as they please.

How, exactly, does a bunch of people reviewing themselves and issuing a nonbinding report constitute serious accountability? The whole idea underlying the ATRT is a pretty crazy one. But we no longer need to make a conceptual argument against the ATRT. We now have an interesting case study in how effective this form of “accountability” really is.

On August 31, this blog announced its 4-part series on what it called the “meltdown” of ICANN accountability. The initial article provided an overview of what the series was about and what it would endeavor to prove, and promised 4 future articles to document accountability failings and explain why they were happening.

The ATRT member appointed by the Noncommercial Stakeholders Group (NCSG), Avri Doria, forwarded a link to the opening article in the series to the ATRT email list. Doria had the outlandish idea that a committee charged with overseeing ICANN’s accountability might be interested in a series of articles about ICANN’s accountability. She sent a link with the comment:

I expect this will be both interesting and illuminating.

Only 30 minutes later, Steve Crocker, the Chairman of ICANN’s Board – someone who has direct responsibility for the direction ICANN is taking – responded in this way:

Well, for a contrary opinion, let me suggest this series might be neither interesting nor illuminating.

In other words, even before the series had been published, Crocker was dismissing it. Note well: as the series had not yet been published, Crocker did not know how well substantiated the arguments would be; all he knew was that the series would be critical of ICANN. So he went to work trying to discredit the report, revealing that he was fundamentally unreceptive to any critical commentary on the topic.

Undaunted, ATRT member Avri Doria responded as follows:

I still think it will be interesting to see how the accusations are substantiated.  I do believe that as with all other information available on the issue of ICANN Accountability and transparency, we will need to look at it, as we can certainly assume that external writings on the subject will definitely create the environment into which our report will be received.  And the environment in which our effort will either be judged as a worthwhile delving into the Accountability and transparency nature of ICANN or a whitewash.

We need to remember that it is the AOC and its review, especially the ATRT that are among the strongest claims we, as the community that defends and explains ICANN to the world, can make.  If our effort avoids the controversial, we may be judged as having failed at our collective duty.  At the end of the year, on 1 Jan 2014, we will all have to make our own judgments on whether we were able to really fulfill our mandate, and on whether we did all we could do.

Perhaps it is just me, but I already find the piece, and the reactions, interesting and illuminating.  I look forward to seeing how the series continues, but I reiterate that I see paying attention to it as part of our continued information collection.

Yet Doria’s plea for impartial collection of all relevant opinions and data was brushed aside. Following Crocker’s cue, two ICANN acolytes responded in a way that made it clear that they have no serious interest in an objective and independent assessment of accountability problems in ICANN. Olivier Crepin-Leblond, the chair of ICANN’s At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), wrote in response to Doria:

Permit me to pass on this text. Having had the experience (at WCIT) to read earlier prose from the same author, I will refrain wasting my time in this instance. I’ll kindly let you and my colleagues on ATRT2 illuminate me later.

In other words, Crepin-Leblond didn’t like what the author of the piece wrote about the World Conference on International Telecommunications (because the article criticized some overheated and absurd statements from Mr. Crepin-Leblond himself). Personal animosity therefore made him refuse to listen to any opinions about ICANN’s accountability.

Did anyone on the ATRT point out to Crepin-Leblond that he might want to rise above past irritations, that ignoring relevant information was not fitting for someone charged with stewardship of ICANN’s accountability? Nope. Au contraire. Demi Getschko, an Internet elder and ATRT member from Brazil, wrote in response to Crepin-Leblond’s affirmation of ignorance: “+1.” Apparently, this guardian of accountability didn’t like what we wrote about WCIT, either.

No other comment on the issue was received. The rest of the ATRT either assented to this dismissal, silently disapproved or (more likely) was not paying attention.

We already knew that the ATRT was a no-op as an accountability mechanism. What’s truly disturbing about this incident, however, is the overtly biased and amateurish behavior of a few people on the review team, and the failure of others to weigh in against that (Avri Doria being the notable exception). The chairman of the board, the chairman of the ALAC, and a major Internet figure from Brazil seem to be completely uninterested in well-substantiated arguments about accountability coming in to them from outside. They have made up their mind in advance about who is to be listened to and who is to be ignored. Not only are these people not listening – they are actively asserting, on the public record, that they are unwilling to listen to views about ICANN’s accountability that do not already conform to their own. One could not have imagined a more damning exhibition of the ATRT’s irrelevance than this.

We note that there have been no comments about subsequent posts in the series, which are carefully substantiated critiques of the unilateral right to amend and the trademark clearinghouse. For some reason, Mr Crocker showed no interest in color-coding them.

6 comments

  1. George Kirikos

    Recall that Steve Crocker voted on new gTLDs, despite being conflicted. He didn’t resign, or face any repercussions for that clear conflict.

    And it’s all documented in the Public Forum transcripts of Costa Rica:

    http://costarica43.icann.org/meetings/sanjose2012/transcript-public-forum-15mar12-en.pdf

    See question at the bottom of page 45, and answer on page 46. Also see followup question at the top of page 53 and answer on that same page and on page 54.

    There’s an old saying: a fish rots from the head down.

  2. Techno C@T

    The general public does not have the time or interest in attending the ATRT (ATRT2) sessions. If they did, they would discover some “interesting and illuminating” observations:

    1. ICANN Staff, Board, ATRT members (including ISOC PIR) plus US Government officials clearly treat the sessions as a CHORE balanced by the social-bounding opportunities of “working” together. [ They call it work]

    2. The ATRT process reveals what many expected, the rest of the ICANN Board is not generally paying attention to anything beyond their three public meetings a year. They are window dressing.

    3. The ATRT sessions are dominated by a few people who obviously like to hear the sound of their own voice. They do not ask tough questions. The ICANN Staff (being well paid for their time) suffers thru the bores. What else do they have to do? Lunch ? Yes, lunch gets everyone’s serious attention. Dinner appears to be a more political process.

    4. One semi-useful result of the ATRT sessions is the ICANN CEO’s report, where he provides off-the-cuff and almost off-the-record comments about the State of the Union inside the OPAQUE non-profit. He reported there were no basic clerical systems in place to send a letter. ICANN is apparently a large group of people who get big checks working from home or traveling. Why would they need any office support systems? The Staff are clearly experts at self-defining themselves to be very busy – doing what ? – self-defining their title and role – doing what ? – they are too busy to answer. Meanwhile the CEO reports that he had to change the HR mood because employees would write that their “goal” was to “work more closely with so and so”. He pointed out that is not useful. He asked them to try to develop some deliverables that could be measured.

    5. ICANN is clearly a small (tiny) group of lawyers who have boatloads of cash arriving each day. They pile it up in NON-Interest bearing accounts. They pay themselves a fortune and surround themselves with extremely over-paid talk-shop diplomats who clearly interview well to land the best positions. The ATRT teams have no access to the real inner circle or inner workings. A few low paid geeks dot the landscape and largely keep their mouths shut.

    As with the ICANN Board – the ATRT is window dressing

    Along similar lines:
    The ICANN Ombudsman is a $600,000 per year facade

    One shocker is the way the U.S. Government officials defer and cow-tow to the ICANN Chair and Staff. The Canadian government rep is worse.

    99.999% of the people on planet Earth could not care less about ICANN or the ATRT ATRT2 sessions

    The only way to deal with ICANN is to ignore it and build a new Internet

    It is ironic that the US Government is building FirstNET in parallel with ICANN – that may be why the NTIA seems disinterested in the ATRT process

  3. Techno C@T

    One semi-useful result of the ATRT sessions is the ICANN CEO’s report….
    ….how could one forget – THE ORG CHART Discussion
    …that discussion is worth a listen & review
    the CEO reported that there is no ORG Chart and that the “powers that be” do not want one and if one is produced they do not want it to be made public…
    …the CEO spoke to the ATRT as if he did not have the clout to over-rule the enriched insiders – he did not name them

    Looking at the big picture – the CEO may not need an ORG Chart because everyone ultimately reports to him – what do they report ? who knows ? and who cares ? they are get paid very well

  4. Techno C@T

    Other items to note:
    The ATRT2 meetings are being held in the __Steve_Crocker_Room__ at the NEW ICANN US Engagement Hub aka the HQ. [What happened to the palace they built for the previous CEO up in Silicon Valley?]

    One has to listen carefully to the voices and the interplay of the “insiders” as they glibly endure the ATRT sessions.

    It is especially important to note the TRIANGLE that has formed with the ISOC (PIR) — NTIA — ICANN as the ball is passed between the insiders with the ATRT members largely silent.

    One gets a sense that NTIA is very happy as they see bigger and bigger cash flows between a growing list of players and locations. Uncle Sam is going to ultimately TAX all of the CyberTax Collectors that form ICANN and ISOC.

    There is a detachment that one can sense between the insiders and the rest of the world.

    Hemingway is responsible for a famous misquotation of Fitzgerald’s. According to Hemingway, a conversation between him and Fitzgerald went:

    Fitzgerald: The rich are different than you and me.
    Hemingway: Yes, they have more money.

    This never actually happened; it is a retelling of an actual encounter between Hemingway and Mary Colum, which went as follows:

    Hemingway: I am getting to know the rich.
    Colum: I think you’ll find the only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.

    The full quotation is found in Fitzgerald’s words in his short story “The Rich Boy” (1926), paragraph 3: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.”

  5. Techno C@T

    Note Well: “Moderated by Kurt Pritz”

    http://www.tldsecurity.net/agenda.html
    Tuesday, October 1, 2013
    The current agenda may be subject to change. Please refer back closer to the date of the event.

    Time Title Speakers Description
    8:00-9:00 Breakfast
    9:00-9:15 Introduction Tim Switzer, NTAG
    9:15-10:15 Speed Talks: Analysis of DITL Name Collision Data Alex Stamos, Artemis | Chris Cowherd, Donuts | Jordyn Buchanan, Google | Sean Baseri, Neustar | Roy Hooper & Wayne MacLaurin, Demand Media Moderated by Kurt Pritz
    10:15-11:15 Panel Discussion: Proposed Mitigations of Name Collisions Alex Stamos, Artemis | Chris Cowherd, Donuts | Jordyn Buchanan, Google | Sean Baseri, Neustar | Roy Hooper & Wayne MacLaurin, Demand Media Moderated by Kurt Pritz
    11:15-11:30 Break
    11:30-12:10 Morning Keynote Laureen Kapin, FTC
    12:10-13:10 Lunch
    13:10-13:40 Surveillance, IP Enforcement & the Fight for Control of the Internet Gabriel Rottman, ACLU
    13:40-14:20 The Current State of DNSSEC Deployment Steve Crocker, Shinkuro, Inc.
    14:20-14:30 Break
    14:30-15:20 Brand Owner Concerns Regarding New gTLD Security Amy Mushahwar, Ballard Spahr & Dan Jaffe, Association of National Advertisers
    15:20-15:45 Abuse Recidivism in Domain Registrations Norm Ritchie, Secure Domain Foundation
    15:45-16:00 Conclusion Tim Switzer, NTAG
    16:00-16:30 Board Busses for ICANN
    16:30–19:00 Reception ICANN Rooftop

  6. Martin Otsieno

    This is great… I have also read this well articulated report on Africa’s perspective that presents the COI issues on the entire ICANN Board and GAC in a “musical chair circus”. http://tandaabiashara.com/dotconnectafrica-dotafrica-objection-treatment-at-icann-is-a-musical-chair-circus/ It notes the ICANN Chairman in his advice given to the African union that greatly affected how GAC and African Union perceived and eventually handled the .africa new gTLD string. It quotes his advice as such:

    “While ICANN is not able to offer the specific relief requested in the Communiqué, the robust protections built into the New gTLD Program afford the African Union (and its individual member states), through the Government Advisory Committee, the opportunity to raise concerns that an applicant is seen as potentially sensitive or problematic, or provide direct advice to the Board. In addition, the African Union (and its individual member states) can avail itself of any of the appropriate objection processes mentioned above in the event an application is received for any string – even those beyond representations of .Africa – that may raise concern”

    AU’s lack of accountability can thus be attributed to the result of the ICANN Chairman’s direction and advice to the AU. Wonder how it will turn out eventually. How the African gTLD support by the AU has passed through and been treated at the hands of the African Union and ICANN in the same manner lacks of complete accountability as also exposed in this story. http://domainnewsafrica.com/dotconnectafricas-dotafrica-gtld-endorsement-treatment-at-the-africa-union-commission/

    Your series of the Melt down which I have followed covers the real issues that ICANN must try and handle once and for all in order to make everything straight.