ICANN: Just give us the keys to the internet – or the web will disintegrate

Do what we say or the UN will take over, techies walk away, cats and dogs living together


'Shock and disappointment in this Board response'

That response elicited some strong opinions from the group that has been working for a year on the proposals. "The Board has abused its role as a decision-maker in this process. In effect, it has sought to replace the open, public, deliberative proposal development process with its own definition of what the community requires, and its own solution that can deliver its evaluation of those requirements," responded one.

"I share the shock and disappointment in this Board response," said another. "I suppose it is the natural reaction of any entity that holds total power and risks losing some of that power to behave in such a way, but it does show that ICANN has not matured sufficiently to be cut loose from oversight any time soon."

In a stark note, the recipient of ICANN's first "ICANN Multistakeholder Ethos Award" in 2014 questioned whether the Board's actions undermined the organization itself. "If the Board continues to overrule the multistakeholder process, it will become ever harder to convince people that this is a workable modality for decision making," she noted.

A number of members also raised the fact that it was Board actions both at the beginning of the process and in recent weeks that have been behind much of the delay.

If that wasn't bad enough, under pressure to actually explain why the Board was refusing to accept the key recommendation of the official working group, first Crocker and then vice-chair Bruce Tonkin argued that the ICANN community should not be given the proposed level of control over the Board because it was not sufficiently representative of the broader internet community.

"It is unclear that this would represent the full multistakeholder community because we do not know yet which SO/ACs will join now or later. Moreover, the same community accountability issues present in the Sole Member are present in the Designator model," noted Crocker.

Unsurprisingly, that comment was received extremely badly, with a range of commenters noting that the Board is elected by the exact same ICANN community that it now argues is not sufficiently representative to be given a veto power.

"If the community is not reflective of global Internet diversity then wouldn't the Board members who are drawn from it be equally non-representative? The logical outcome of this criticism is that the Board is equally disqualified from being the steward," queried one working group member.

It's the governments!

That observation led to immediate warnings from ICANN Board members that this argument could be used by the United Nations to argue that ICANN lacked legitimacy, and so the internet's functioning should be taken over by governments.

And that of course leads back to the five bullet points of fear that ICANN's Board pushed on the internet community as a way of adding pressure on them to capitulate to the Board's demands that its power not be constrained.

Matters will come to a head at the organization face-to-face meeting in Dublin starting next Thursday, October 15, and running through to Saturday, October 24.

Two big problems

But despite the Board and staff's determined efforts to avoid real accountability, two simple facts stand in their way.

First, without a legal right to force ICANN to act, there will be no way for the IANA contract to be separated from ICANN at some future date.

The whole point of the transition is to replace the US government's role, and the one undeniable power it has is the ability to withdraw the IANA contract. Without a legal right, that withdrawal power cannot exist.

Second, without the legal ability to constrain the organization, the Board would be able to move the entire organization from Los Angeles in California to another city in another country (Beijing? Moscow?) through a single vote and there would be no way for the internet community to prevent it.

The US Congress – which ultimately has to sign off on the deal – is unlikely to see that possibility in a very positive light.

At the moment, however, ICANN the corporation is focused entirely on how to pressure the internet community to pull out any recommendations that would constrain its powers. And it is deploying a hefty dose of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt in an effort to make that happen.

Once it achieves that goal, presumably ICANN will then turn to how it gets Congress to agree to give it free reign of the internet's naming and numbering systems. ®


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