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.