ICANN Board mobilizes against accountability plan

It’s the end game in the ICANN accountability process. ICANN thinks it’s losing the game. It is desperately trying to derail the accountability reforms developed by an open, bottom up and very deliberate process with multiple public comment periods. It responds (to use a basketball metaphor) with a full court press. ICANN invites the Cross Community Working Group on Enhanced Accountability (CCWG) to its home court (in Los Angeles) where it can exert more control over the environment and the agenda. Just coincidentally (!) the CCWG meeting date is scheduled right after a board retreat, which means that most board members and key ICANN staff are in Los Angeles and can plot their strategies in advance. The board, staff, and former board members are mobilized to resist the reforms.

Making a huge tactical error, the CCWG acccpts the proposed meeting date and time, allowing ICANN to lure them into a meeting on its own turf. In its PR announcements, ICANN frames the meeting as a “dialogue” – implying that there are only two actors, ICANN and the CCWG, and the main topic they will discuss is the board’s objections to the CCWG plan and ICANN legal’s counter proposal. Over two days, the CCWG’s agenda is completely dominated by the complaints of board members and ICANN staff about their proposal.

A sample of the transcript provides the flavor of the interactions. Former board member Sebastien Bachollet complained that there is no need for a community power to remove board members because the board can already do that. Current board member George Sadowsky agrees, claiming “It’s absolutely surreal that the removal of the entire board is demanded by the [CCWG]. I wouldn’t spill the board and this…it’s a very destabilizing event.” CCWG Co-chair Thomas Rickert then reminded the board that “the existence of the community power to spill the board is indisputable. It’s been on the table in our first report, we got overwhelming community support for it. It’s a CCWG requirement to have this community power…”  The board members should know this, if they have followed the process at all. Yet here they are trying to reverse it.

Yet another board member, Chris Disspain, tried to turn the tables on the CCWG. “It isn’t enough to simply say, ‘we make up the SO’s and ACs and therefore what we say goes. You’ve got to be accountable. …the question becomes to whom are you accountable?” Nice one, Chris.  You’re not quibbling with specific reforms, you’re suggesting that the whole plan be scrapped and refocused on reforming ICANN’s participants. But it wasn’t the problems and abuses associated with ICANN participants that led to the calls for accountability reforms, and it wasn’t the community that was overseen by the U.S. government: it was you, ICANN.

Fortunately Jordan Carter was there  to challenge this nonsense:

The ICANN board is the governing body of a corporation with a budget of $100 million plus, 300 staff, control over the root of the Internet …operating the IANA functions.  That is the body that is being held to account by these [CCWG-proposed] powers. Compared with that, the SOs and ACs …have some very narrowly scoped powers by which they hold that governing body with all those resources and power and influence and responsibility to account. so it just isn’t right to say that the SOs and ACs or the community needs to be held to account in a symmetrical fashion.

The mere fact that Disspain would suggest turning the tables in that way tells speaks volumes about the mentality inside ICANN.

The CCWG’s and CWG’s lawyers provided a review of the ICANN board’s counter-proposal that makes the issues very clear. Under ICANN’s so-called “Multistakeholder Enforcement Mechanism” (MEM) the board could always invoke its “fiduciary duty” to overrule community empowerment mechanisms. Then conflict would have to go into arbitration, and in which the standard for overturning the board would shift dramatically in ICANN’s favor.

So the choice being faced in Los Angeles is a stark one: do we want to make ICANN accountable or not? And if not, can we actually have an IANA transition? Will there be any support for it? A growing number of people would prefer the status quo (U.S. oversight) to an ICANN without a membership and the CCWG-proposed community empowerment mechanisms.

We urge the CCWG to stand firm. It must resist the full court press, consider the full gamut of public comments, and continue with improving its membership plan. In its discussions in LA, the ICANN board counter-proposal should not be given privileged status over the comments of the other stakeholders; the CCWG’s task at this point is to modify its proposal as necessary to obtain the broad community consensus required. They are not in a dialogue with ICANN, they are in the end game 0f a vital reform process in global governance that involves the entire global multistakeholder community.