Details are beginning to emerge about the replacement for the ICANN – Commerce Department Joint Project Agreement (JPA). The Economist is reporting that the JPA will be replaced by an “affirmation of commitments” that is only four pages long. This corresponds to what we are hearing from various sources here in Washington. Unlike the JPA, which had to be renewed every few years – a process that triggered what we at IGP considered to be a dysfunctional politics in which U.S. business interests ran to Congress every time ICANN did something they didn’t like – the “affirmation” has no fixed term. From this point on, the details become hazier. The new agreement is organized around four policy areas around which regular reviews will be conducted: 1) competition among generic domains; 2) Whois; 3) security; and 4) transparency, accountability and the public interest. The reviews will be conducted by “oversight panels” that include representatives of foreign governments. That is an area where the details are especially hazy. We do not know how these “oversight panels” will be selected, or whether they will include business and civil society in a balanced way as well as foreign governments. But it does look like a move to a more transnational approach to oversight. The Economist article reports that the U.S. government will retain “a permanent seat” on the panel dealing with accountability. It also claims that “there are no penalties if ICANN fails to heed its new overseers.” This sounds like the kind of “soft oversight” we proposed be conducted through the Internet Governance Forum. We have also heard that NTIA officials were actively vetting the proposal among foreign governments.
Overall this sounds like a mixed bag. One can only marvel at the elevation of Whois (the policies governing the display of data on domain name registrants) to the same level of importance as “transparency, accountability and the public interest.” But we all know that the trademark lobby is strong and focused. The shift in the form of oversight and the move to a more international approach is welcome – but we await the details.