We are in Geneva for a flurry of Internet governance related meetings. Monday morning ICANN held one of its consultation sessions on “Improving Institutional confidence.” The topic of discussion there was “completing the transition,” which is about whether people think ICANN is accountable enough to be released from U.S. supervision. ICANN is holding half a dozen of these sessions around the world.
Only two members of the “Presidential Strategy Committee” were at the Geneva session: Yrjö Länsipuro and Marilyn Cade. I went to this meeting with some reluctance, fearing that it would be a pro-ICANN propaganda session. Nevertheless I wanted to see how aggressively ICANN was pushing for its independence and what it was saying. Fortunately, the initial presentations were low-key and short and most of the session was devoted to listening. The discussions were open and productive, although as I pointed out at the meeting the concept of what “the transition” is and what “completing” it means still suffers from a lack of clarity.
ICANN’s draft transition plan focuses on preventing “capture,” the need for accountability, and the need for internationalization. Capture, according to one meeting participant, is a code word for ICANN falling under control of domainers and/or other domain name industry interests. Accountability is the big one, can we replace US government oversight and if so with what?
In the original documents and negotiations creating ICANN the concept of a “transition” meant completing the privatization of DNS governance by ending the US Government oversight role. However, the US pulled back from that in 2000 and has since insisted on its intention to keep its hand on the root zone and the IANA contract indefinitely. At the consultation I asked whether the “transition” meant nothing more than an end to the Joint Project Agreement, or something more. Both of the Presidential Strategy Committee members were unable to answer that question.
Some of the most interesting discussions revolved around the future role of governments, not only the U.S., but also GAC. Yrjo hinted that the “transition” involves “elaborating” the role of GAC, and to some governments that means a stronger role. However, the people at the session, including me, said that what ICANN needs is less governmental involvement not more. Avri Doria noted that the GAC “Advisory” role has become more commanding over time, and the special US role makes the allegedly “private sector led” status of ICANN seem like a lie.
Yrjo also noted that improving accountability implied a “special focus on business.” That’s a bit scary. Why should one stakeholder group be singled out as more important than others? Lee Hibbard of the Council of Europe noted that the governance of the Internet increasingly touches on basic human rights questions. Shouldn’t ICANN have more of a people-centered perspective on accountability? Where, he asked, does this global public interest stop, does it stop at private sector? I reinforced this view, noting that the concept of “multistakeholderism” provides an inadequate accountability mechanism, we need to talk about people in general and about their individual rights when making decisions about critical internet resources.
Tomorrow I will blog about the IGF consultations at the UN.