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Why is ICANN rushing its 'UN 'net security council'? So it can be announced at Davos

Fascinating tale of world elites, anti-NSA rumblings and the web's future

Despite rejections from its closest allies and calls for delay, ICANN is determined to create a "coordination council" for its internet-steering NetMundial Initiative this month. Why?

The initiative was born out of a meeting in April between some governments, ICANN, and others, in Brazil, to discuss the future direction of the web in the wake of Edward Snowden's NSA surveillance revelations.

Last week, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC BASIS) asked the initiative's organizers to delay the creation of a coordination council until a number of issues had been resolved. Even though ICANN's CEO literally begged the chamber to join the governance project, he refused to delay the council's creation.

The week before, the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) made the same point. It said "the creation of a highly structured coordination council for the initiative may impede the development of broad participation, and so may be premature… therefore the IAB will not participate in the council at this time."

We asked ICANN's CEO if he would delay the council's creation following the IAB's statement. He refused.

Civil society group the Just Net Coalition has said it will not join, and a second civil society group noted that it had "very significant misgivings" but would "facilitate the involvement of those from civil society who do wish to apply for membership of the Coordination Council, while acknowledging others have decided as a matter of principle that they do not wish to be involved."

Why is it so urgent that the ruling council be created when the organizations that would be expected to provide members are refusing to sign up?

Permanent marker

It doesn't stop there, either. When they announced the creation of the council, the three organizers said they would give themselves and two others "permanent seats" on the council.

Following an outcry, the "permanent" part was dropped. But the two other specially reserved seats will also not be filled following rejection, twice, from the Internet Society, and members of the advisory committee of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) who said they didn't want a representative to take council membership.

Yet still the NetMundial Initiative organizers, and especially ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade, continue to insist on moving ahead with the council, rather than delay proceedings to spend more time filling up the panel's 20 seats.

As of the time of writing, there are 41 candidates for those seats – a small number given that people can self-nominate by doing no more than filling in a simple web form. And there remain two gaps where no one from a specific sector and regions has applied.

Again, why the rush to have the council in place by the end of the year?

Chehade has twice argued that it was because the three organizers didn't want to continue to have to answer all the questions themselves ("we don't want to be the ones any more making these clarifications"), and instead the coordination council should drive the initiative. That argument makes little sense, though, since the three organizers have decided the entire approach already.

Finally, however, the real answer for the refusal to delay creation of the council appeared in an hour-long call [MP3] between the organizers, posted online in the past few days. In the call, the three organizers discuss their meeting with ICC BASIS two days earlier (we covered it here) and then move onto to the coordination council.

Acknowledging that at least two of the seats are unlikely to be filled, Chehade takes the unusual decision to keep them "open indefinitely" rather than delay the council's creation. He also repeatedly resists delaying the council's nomination deadline, arguing that a delay would be unlikely to produce many more candidates.

And then, the real reason for the urgency: "There are some very senior players who have already committed to this. If we delay on them, it may be hard to have them maintain the Save the Date activity for next month."

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