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Non-Profits, ICANN Team to Improve Accountability

The Markle Foundation and several other non-profit organizations teamed up Tuesday with The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers to promote several initiatives designed to improve ICANN's accountability and its response to various Internet constituencies.

The first initiative will be a $200,000 grant to ICANN that will fund an outreach unit which ICANN Interim Chairman Esther Dyson said will be the beginning of a more responsive organization.

"We are going to use this grant to establish an outreach organization. We have all these people willing to help us and this gives us the ability to hire a program director and implement the basics of an outreach program. We're extremely grateful to Markle and the other organizations for helping us to move forward," Dyson said at an afternoon press conference.

In addition to establishing an outreach organization, the grant will be used to produce educational materials in a variety of languages, create technical methods for worldwide voting and initiate the voting process. The money will fund the first phase of ICANN's at-large membership implementation program. At-large members will ultimately be charged with selecting nine individuals who will join ICANN's 19-member board of directors. Nine other members have already been selected by the three domain name supporting organizations with the 19th member being President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Roberts.

Markle Foundation President Zoe Baird said a number of other organizations will help in the efforts including The Carter Center, Common Cause, the American Library Association and others who will work together to increase participation in the governing process worldwide.

"What Markle is doing is bringing in experts in democracy to look at the structure, identify needs for accountability and make recommendations to improve the process so it might earn the public's trust," she said.

One of the harshest criticisms of ICANN has been its lack of accountability to the various constituencies it serves as well as its failure to adequately communicate with the Internet community as a whole.

Baird said Markle and the other groups will work with ICANN to ensure commercial interests don't shut out individuals and other important constituencies around the world.

"Global institutions are beginning to oversee Internet activities," she said. "The decisions they make will determine whether the Internet achieves its potential as a powerful weapon for democratic values and aspirations. Management of the Internet by a private entity will not be stable or legitimate if that entity does not adequately include the public voice.

"So it is essential that ICANN -- which is establishing rules that impact individuals and organizations alike -- be accountable to all Internet users everywhere. Specifically, that means building a legitimate way for individuals to vote and create an authority they can trust. We are bringing in experts who can make this happen," Baird said.

Organizations enlisted in effort include:

  • The Carter Center, which will create an election monitoring organization to ensure at-large member elections are open and free of fraud. The group will also establish fair election standards.

  • Common Cause will create and lead an international group of governance experts who will advise ICANN on building an accountable voting and membership process.

  • The American Library Association will help distribute educational materials in a variety of languages throughout the world.

  • The Center for Democracy and Technology will produce a pamphlet explaining ICANN's role and the importance of its decisions.

  • The Berkman Center for Internet and Society will explore ways governance and open debates can be implemented.

Tuesday's initiatives are part of Markle's broader $1 million Internet Governance Project designed to promote public interest in nontraditional, international venues.