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.”

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