Responding to public comments showing widespread reluctance to set ICANN free of the US Government before it improves its accountability and transparency, ICANN issued a call today for public comment on developing transparent and accountable management operating principles (MOPs) for possible adoption in to its Strategic Plan. The organization hopes to start setting “new standards for interactions within the ICANN community and between members of the community and staff” by soliciting responses to a set of questions defining accountability and transparency in the ICANN context. IGP welcomes the effort and hope it comes to fruition. But is it anything more than PR? A short, two-week comment period and ICANN management's apparent belief that they are going to settle on the right principles by early December (!) can only fuel doubts about the sincerity and depth of this effort.
ICANN's accountability constitutes a major global political problem that may require institutional innovations. Oversight is currently provided unilaterally by the U.S.; outside of Washington DC few people like this arrangement, but few are enthusiastic about replacing it with a multi-lateral governmental oversight. Privatization is another option, but the feasibility of that hinges on finding some external accountability mechanisms (e.g., a real independent review, or legal checks and balances) as well as improved internal accountability (e.g., having Board members elected by the public instead of self-selected). This problem will not be solved by issuing “MOPs”. As for transparency, we propose as a starter some background research into the U.S. Administrative Procedures Act done by Michael Froomkin that highlights some best practices and safeguards.