RealTime IT News

Reform Board Wants A Bigger ICANN

The committee charged with finding a way to reform the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) came out with several proposals Friday evening, ostensibly to provide a framework for improvement but mainly aimed at placating its critics.

The committee on evolution and reform, created and made up of ICANN directors, finds the organization -- charged with the safety and stability of some of the most popular domain extensions on the Internet today -- needs more internal oversight to limit the potential for abuse by its directors or staffers.

Karl Auerbach, one of five ICANN directors (out of 18) voted into office, said the proposal is just further insulation of a secretive board of directors from public scrutiny and accountability.

"The proposal is a malignancy, I mean it's really, incredibly bad," Auerbach said. "In terms of accountability to the public, it builds even more firewalls between (the board of directors) and the public than before.

"As a business proposition, it's a disaster," he continued, "it is an expansion of the ICANN staff to become even more of an empire than it is today, in favor of very specialized interests they euphemistically call 'stakeholders,' and with complete disdain of the public interest."

The proposals made in the proposed reform report, which are available for public comment at ICANN's Web site, follow many of the points made by ICANN President Stuart Lynn in his call for reform in February.

Namely, the reform board finds, ICANN needs a more clear delineation between its technical, policy-making and operational structures. Right now, they said, the three overlap and create some confusion.

But to spin off, for example, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) -- the technical aspect at ICANN -- into another agency outside ICANN's operational control doesn't make sense.

"There would also inevitably be duplication of overhead, and the possibility that a superstructure encompassing both would be have to be established later," the report stated. "At least at this time, we do not believe it makes sense to attempt to go down this path."

Instead, the committee recommends a study group formed to identify the responsibilities of each structure -- the technical, operational, and policy -- and make recommendations. Outsourcing is a possibility, but giving up control isn't, the board finds.

"Some believe they could be entirely separate organizations," the report states. "Some believe very mistakenly in our view that there is no need for a policy-making organization or that the function should be left entirely to governments. In this view, what would be left would be a very "thin" ICANN that purely concentrates on technical operations issues."

With an ICANN overseeing the technical, operational and policy-making decisions of the U.S. root server, the reform board conceded some oversight was necessary to ensure against abuses.

Three oversight measures were proposed:

  • The reform board recommends an arbitration process for any ICANN violations, though findings are non- binding and won't reverse the decision of the board of directors. "We do not believe that a 'super-Board' that has the power to reverse decisions of the Board is either appropriate or workable," the committee finds.
  • An office of ombudsman would also be created, a position filled by the board of directors. The ombudsman would receive complaints of violations to ICANN bylaws, though whether he or she acts upon complaint is up to him or her. Public disclosure is not mandatory.
  • A manager of public participation would manage the many forums ICANN has established to garner public feedback on policy-making decisions, making sure the public has a method of voicing their opinions.

An ICANN, such as the one Lynn and the reform board propose, would inherently have checks and balances to keep abuse out of the pictures, "nonetheless, we suggest the following additional protections against possible overreaching by the board or staff of ICANN," the report stated.

Auerbach, who represents North America on the ICANN board, has been trying to do what the office of ombudsman would have to do in the event it is created: gain access to ICANN records to find out whether potentially illegal activities are taking place at the organization.

Auerbach and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued ICANN in March to gain access to records supposedly all directors should have access to, namely financial and corporate records.

"Ombudsman is an utter joke," he said. "Here is a person that's an employee and reports to the president (of ICANN), can be fired by the president and gets their paycheck from the president. Now, I'm a director, I have an independent statutory authority to go into the corporation, and I have been denied that right. An ombudsman is going to have to do those same things, and if I can't do it, then they don't have a snowball's chance in hell of doing it."

Though the reform board has made suggestions beefing up the internal structure, it doesn't have a clear answer for funding this ICANN expansion. Revenues, which come in the form of donations or yearly fees paid by registries and registrars, will need to be increased. It's a problem for private company that's a non-profit organization.

There's been much debate over allowing national governments a chance to sit on the ICANN board of directors, and doing so would kill two birds with one stone.

Allowing a government on the board, for a fee, would give ICANN the money it needs to go forward, while the government (as a body) would get a seat on the board of directors (though it would be an advisory position).

According to a report put out by the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the Internet Democracy Project and the Civil Society Democracy Project, there's a third reason for government inclusion by Lynn and the reform committee: enforcement.

"The Lynn Proposal's inclusion of governments in ICANN seems as much motivated by a need for assistance in enforcement as by a concern for the public interest," the report stated.

The Government Advisory Committee (GAC) would be one of eight sitting board members on the ICANN board of directors. The chair of each organization under ICANN's revamped structure would be included.

They are four supporting organizations -- the address supporting organization (ASO), the generic name supporting organization (GNSO), the protocol supporting organization (PSO) and county-code names supporting organization (CNSO) and three advisory committees -- the GAC, the root server system advisory committee (RSSAC) and security advisory committee (SAC).

Not only does the board propose a director's chair for government bodies but a direct liaison with other ICANN supporting organization to ensure the government's position is heard.

"We also believe that any policy-development structure and procedures adopted by the Board for the guidance of the supporting organizations should require consultation with the GAC and all other standing Advisory Committees during that process and before any recommendation is submitted to the Board for action."