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ITAA Calls for Private Reform of ICANN

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) President Stuart Lynn spoke to a Senate subcommittee Wednesday afternoon, defending his organization's right to secret meetings and reiterating the importance of dictating policy.

The Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space heard testimony from a broad range of witnesses Wednesday to address concerns the Commerce Department has not taken a strong enough role in overseeing the goings on at ICANN. Witnesses include Lynn, Nancy Victory, U.S. Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, and long-time ICANN critic (and board director) Carl Auerbach.

The General Accounting Office (GAO), the government's official auditor, says there are no detailed minutes of meetings between ICANN and Commerce and the meetings themselves have been infrequent. This despite one of several conditions in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by ICANN and the DoC in the late 1990s, which calls for a transparent decision-making process.

ICANN's chief avoided a direct answer to those concerns, saying the organization needs to maintain a delicate balancing act between public interest and private ICANN.

"I prefer that the key role of governments is fully seen in the light of day, and that we collectively and openly determine what kind of public/private partnership can ensure that a private ICANN executes its core mission while respecting governmental concerns for the public interest," he said.

Other ICANN criticism centers on its overall ability to govern the nation's domain name system and whether the organization has the right to dictate policy when it was originally instituted to provide guidance only on technical matters.

Lynn went on the offensive, calling attacks by critics a subtle way to protect self-serving interests.

"To be blunt about it, some want ICANN to perform only those policy functions that hamstring their competitors but free them to do as they wish," he said. "It's understandable, but misguided."

"ICANN must, as it was always intended to do and has done from its creation, address a limited set of policy issues directly related to its core mission because they are inextricably intertwined with the technical tasks required by that mission," he added.

Also at issue is a 1998 agreement with the Commerce Department in which ICANN agreed to cede its control over domain names to another private company or organization by 2000, but delays have extended that deadline to September of this year.

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), an IT industry trade group, said it anticipates ICANN and Commerce will sign a renewed memorandum of understanding this fall and has issued a call for continued private sector leadership and no government regulation of the Internet governing body.

"ICANN plays a vitally important part in the continued momentum of the Internet as a global medium," said Harris N. Miller, president of the Arlington, Va.-based ITAA. "Like any experiment in democracy, organizers must solidify and encourage those initiatives that are working, and tweak those that need reform. We support an organization that establishes relationships with all of the players, and we strongly support continued private sector leadership and transparency in all aspects of the procedures of ICANN."

Talking with Senators Wednesday, DoC Assistant Secretary Victory said certain conditions might be instituted before signing a renewal contract with ICANN in September. These might include open hearings and access to private records.

Miller said that ICANN should move towards contractual relationships with the country code top level domain (ccTLD) registrars, in addition to the generic TLDs, the organizations which, in essence, maintain the address directories for the Internet.

"I think (Congress) has concerns, as I do, about the processes at ICANN that need more involvement by the DoC, which is why I called for a reform back in February," Lynn said in a press conference Wednesday evening after his hearing. "I look forward to working with both Congress and the DoC to make that happen."