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ICANN and Accountability II

ICANN and Accountability II

 
It was only the other day that I wrote that ICANN Staff was in the process of initiating a process on ICANN Accountability.  And  on the 14th the released Enhancing ICANN Accountability: Process and the Next steps was released.
 
In this they offer the blueprint for what appears to be a new advisory organization with several subgroups:
  • An ICANN Accountability & Governance Cross Community Group
  • An ICANN Accountability & Governance  Public Experts Group
  • An ICANN Accountability & Governance Coordination Group

The Cross Community Group (CCG)

This group “is open to any stakeholder” in the community that is interested in discussing the issues and giving input to the Coordination group on issues and solution for ICANN Accountability and Governance .

The Cross Community Group has three tasks:
  1. Identify issues for discussion or improvement;
  2. Appoint participants to the Coordination Group 
  3. Provide ongoing community input to the Coordination Group
 
All stakeholders that wish to participate in the Cross Community Group may indicate their involvement by submitting their names to accountability-ccg-members@icann.org.
 
 
It would be good for members of the LGBTQI community to participate in the Cross Community Group.  Hope to see you there – I have already signed up.

The Public Experts Group (PEG)

ICANN is “bringing together four respected individuals with strong backgrounds in academia, governmental relations, global

insight, and the AoC, to form the Accountability & Governance Public Experts Group.  This group will be responsible for picking seven (7) experts to sit on the Coordination group.  Currently these experts will be picked to cover the following areas of expertise:

  •  Internet Technical Operations
  • International Organizational Reviews
  • Global Accountability Tools and Metrics
  • Jurisprudence / Accountability Mechanisms
  • Internet Consumer Protection (including privacy, human rights and property rights concerns
  • Economics (Marketplace and Competition)
  • Global Ethics Frameworks
  • Operational, Finance and Process
  • Board Governance
  • Transparency
  • Risk Management
  • Governmental Engagement and Relations
  • Multistakeholder Governance

It is unfortunate that they did not include experts in community and diversity, and that they subordinated Human Rights to Consumer Rights, but perhaps they can be convinced to fix this.  It is to be hoped the the members of the  PEG will be expert and diverse enough to realize that this list of criteria needs further consideration and adjustment.  As they will be the experts on expertise, this should be in their purview.  Or at least I hope so.

The Accountability & Governance Coordination Group (AGCG)

Will be composed of those appointed to it by the CCG and PEG, as well as a Staff member, an expert in the current Affirmation of Committee Accountability and Transparency process and a few liasions.   The ACCG will be responsible for:

  1. Categorizing and prioritizing issues including those identified by the Cross Community Group;
  2. Building solution requirements for issues with input from the Cross Community Group; and
  3. Issuing the final report/recommendations.

Once the recommendations are made, they will be subject to the standard process of community review and board decision prior to implementation.  It is expected that this process will last at least on

*

If there is just one thing I would like readers of dotgay-community.org to take from this, it is:

All stakeholders that wish to participate in the Cross Community Group

send their names to accountability-ccg-members@icann.org.”

It would be good for members of the LGBTQI community to participate in this Cross Community Group.

It might change the face of accountability in Internet governance.

 

What an opportunity!

 

A more detailed analysis can found here.

ICANN and Accountability

ICANN and Accountability

Over the years, accountability has been an issue at ICANN.  Many of the concerns were discussed in the ICANN Affirmations of Commitments (AOC) Accountability and Transparency Review Team of 2013 (ATRT2) final report.  As part of the solution, recommendation #9 of that report recommended the formation of a Special Community Group to explore restructuring ICANN’s current accountability mechanisms. This was an expression of the concern for accountability from inside the community.

With the start of the NTIA process to Transition its Stewardship responsibilities for the IANA function, the concerns over accountability have grown in the world beyond ICANN. In testimony of at Hearing on “Ensuring the Security, Stability, Resilience, and Freedom of the Global Internet” on April 02, 2014 Assistant Secretary Strickling said:

“the transition proposal must meet the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA services.  For example, mechanisms for the adherence to and development of customer service levels, including timeliness and reliability, should be clear, as should processes for transparency, accountability, and auditability. “

Stakeholders, in this case the members of the Generic Names Supporting Organization of ICANN (GNSO) have also started to demand action on accountability.  The leaders of all GNSO Stakeholder groups stood in line together  at the public forum of the  ICANN50 meeting in London in June and made the following statement:

I’m Keith Drazek, Chair of the Registries Stakeholder Group, with me are the leaders of all of the GNSO’s Stakeholder Groups and Constituencies.  

I’m happy to report that the GNSO community took up Fadi’s challenge from the Opening Ceremony to seek harmony this week in London. Instead of a song or two, the statement we’re about to read represents an unprecedented — yes unprecedented — event. It only took us 50 meetings, but I think the rarity of what you’re witnessing this afternoon sends a very strong message about our views. The GNSO community, with all our diversity and occasionally competing interests, has come together to unanimously support the following:

The entire GNSO joins together today calling for the Board to support community creation of an independent accountability mechanism that provides meaningful review and adequate redress for those harmed by ICANN action or inaction in contravention of an agreed upon compact with the community. 

This deserves the Board’s serious consideration – not only does it reflect an unprecedented level of consensus across the entire GNSO community, it is a necessary and integral element of the IANA stewardship transition. 

True accountability does not mean ICANN is only accountable to itself, or to some vague definition of “the world.” It does not mean that governments should have the ultimate say over community policy without regard to the rule of law. Rather, the Board’s decisions must be open to challenge and the Board cannot be in a position of reviewing and certifying its own decisions. 

We need an independent accountability structure that holds the ICANN Board, Staff, and various stakeholder groups accountable under ICANN’s governing documents, serves as an ultimate review of Board/Staff decisions, and through the creation of precedent, creates prospective guidance for the board, the staff, and the entire community.   

As part of the IANA stewardship transition, the multi-stakeholder community has the opportunity and responsibility to propose meaningful accountability structures that go beyond just the IANA-specific accountability issues. We are committed to coming together and developing recommendations for creation of these mechanisms. We ask the ICANN Board and Staff to fulfill their obligations and support this community driven, multi-stakeholder initiative.”

Even members of Congress are insisting on ICANN accountability.

“We also strongly agree with many stakeholder that the “Enhancing ICANN Accountability” process must be completed – and have adopted meaningful reforms – prior to the proposed transition of the IANA functions.”

Now ICANN is initiating a discussion on enhancing ICANN accountability. While a comment period was held and a few draft proposals have been floated for discussion, the community is still waiting to see how the process on ICANN accountability will play out.

Review of Existing accountability mechanisms

ICANN is accountable to the global multistakeholder community through a bottom-up process. It is also accountable for its execution of the various IANA functions as specified in its contract with NTIA and Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with other Internet organizations.

Accountability normally includes three major elements, oversight, transparency, and methods for redress (in the sense of “to make right”). ICANN has a well-developed form of internal soft oversight in the Affirmation of Commitments (AOC) between the NTIA and ICANN. It is a novel bottom-up oversight mechanism that calls for periodic review, by the multistakeholder participants within ICANN, of major aspects of ICANN’s work.  Additionally a review of the Accountability and Transparency of the organization is also done every three years.  The Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) is a soft oversight mechanism in that the ICANN Board is not bound by anything other than its respect for the process and concern about stakeholder reactions, to follow the recommendations of the review teams. Historically, the Board has responded favorably to the recommendations of the various review team. Occasionally, though, the recommendations have been followed as check-the- box activity rather than in the full spirit of the recommendation. An important aspect though, is that the periodic ATRT reviews do come back to review and verify the implementation of previous recommendations. A liability is that ICANN can decide to stop AOC reviews just by giving notice of its intent to abandon the AOC.  The AOC provides good mechanisms, but it is a voluntary agreement between NTIA and ICANN.  And when NTIA transitions its responsibilities for the IANA contract it has awarded ICANN, ICANN may no longer have a material interest in maintaining the reviews of the AOC.

Transparency in an organization is essential in order for there to be accountability. If the actions and other facts of an organization cannot be known, they cannot be learned from, mitigated, or redressed. Without sufficient transparency there can be no accountability. Definitions of transparency vary. For some it means that except for items that have been intentionally redacted, documents and meeting notes are available to the community. For others, it means that a carefully vetted set of rationales for decisions are published, but that the actual discussions and documents that went into the decision are not made available to the community. ICANN tends toward the later standard, though the recent Affirmation of Commitments (AOC) accountability review of the organization has recommended the organization adopt the more revelatory standard and made several recommendations in the recent ATRT2 report.

ICANN defines three redress mechanisms: reconsideration requests, the Independent Review Board and the Ombudsman. Reconsideration requests define a process where “any person or entity materially affected by an action (or inaction) of ICANN may request review or reconsideration of that action by the Board.” (Article IV, Section 2 of the Bylaws) For the most part, this means that the Board is asked to review its own decisions as well as Staff actions. The Independent Review Process is a non-binding “process for independent third-party review of Board actions (or inaction) alleged by an affected party to be inconsistent with ICANN’s Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws.” ( Article IV, Section 3 of the ICANN Bylaws ) The ICANN Ombudsman is an “independent and impartial neutral dispute resolution practitioner whose function is to provide an independent internal evaluation of complaints by members of the ICANN community” who “believe that the ICANN staff, Board or an ICANN constituent body has treated them unfairly” for “matters which have not otherwise become the subject of the Reconsideration Process or the Independent Review Process.” (Article V of the ICANN Bylaws)

ICANN community experience has shown that these measures do not work as well as they should.  Since the Board reconsiders its own decisions for the most part, it would be a surprise if they were to overturn very many; they have done so at least once.  The IRP can require a million dollar deposit as it is a ‘pay up front loser pays’ mechanism; some can afford it, most can’t. The Ombudsman works diligently to fix what he can fix, but he has no decision or enforcement powers and can’t help the community very much.  It is this failure in the current mechanisms, discussed at length in the ATRT2 final report, that creates a necessity for accountability improvements. Many have also noted, that the only ‘binding’ external oversight of ICANN involves the granting of the IANA contract by NTIA. When the IANA Stewardship is transitioned, that will be gone.

Moving forward

The fact that the current accountability mechanisms don’t work as well as they should combined with the internal and external pressures have brought ICANN to the point were it appears ready to engage in a serious review and, hopefully, improvement of its accountability process. In order to meet the IANA transition schedule, this will need to happen during the next year.  While the exact form of the accountability committees that will do the work is still in flux, it will certainly offer the opportunity for members of the dotgay-comunity to participate.  One of the important jobs of ICANN is to provide regulatory oversight to the registries, such as .gay.  If dotgay LLC secures .gay for the gay community, the community controlled .gay gTLD will be subject to ICANN oversight regarding the guarantees dotgay LLC is making to the community.  In order for ICANN to insure the accountability of registries such as dotgay LLC, it first has to prove that it is as accountable as we need to be.

For those in the gay community, this will be an opportunity to help improve ICANN.  There are many opportunities for improving ICANN, and for the most part, it is the community that makes the policies.  Once the committee to improve accountability is announced and the volunteer call goes out, I will blog it on dotgay-community.org. I plan to stay involved and will keep the community informed as the work goes on.

 

IANA Stewardship Transition

IANA Stewardship Transition

In March of 2014, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) of the USA Department of Commerce, surprised the word and announced that they were ready to transition key Internet domain functions, for which they held responsibility.  In the announcement, they asked “the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the current role played by NTIA in the coordination of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS). ”

One of the NTIA responsibilities involves administering changes to the “authoritative root zone file – the database containing the lists of names and addresses of all top-level domains.”  In other words, they have formal responsibility  for the final administrative step before a domain name, such as .gay, is added to the main database that allows for users to reference it in their web searches, email and apps.  The decision to transition the responsibilities is the last step in the privatization of the DNS that was initiated in 1997 during the Clinton Administration.

This was a day that ICANN had been waiting for, for over a decade.  At first ICANN interpreted this action to mean they would just become responsible for the DNS and other IANA functions, without the oversight of NTIA.  Freedom at last. However, this was not quite the US Government intended.  It rather intended for them to ” to convene the multistakeholder process to develop the transition plan.”  The US Government required that any plan be in concordance with a set of principles:

  • Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
  • Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  • Meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and,
  • Maintain the openness of the Internet.

It has taken a few months, but after extensive discussion among global stakeholders, the group that is going to coordinate the production of the plan is about to finalize its charter so that we can get on with the work.  While producing a viable plan will be a major test of multistakeholder decision making processes, even getting the coordination group established has required a lot of discussion and consensus building among groups of stakeholders who have very different perspective on the issue.

After a 4 month bottom-up multistakeholder process, the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) has posted the final draft of their charter for review. The comment period ends on 15 August 2014. The charter lists the following tasks:

  • Liaise among the stakeholder groups, including the “operation communities (i.e., those with direct operations or service relationship with IANA; namely names, numbers, protocol parameters).”
    • Soliciting proposal
    • Soliciting other input
  • Asses the outputs for compatibility and interoperability
  • Assemble the outputs into a complete proposal for the transiton
  • Act as a conduit for information sharing and public communication

The ICG commits itself to “conduct itself transparently, consult with a broad range of stakeholders, and ensure that its proposal support the security and stability of the IANA functions”.  The process will go on for approximately a year.

In the meantime, within ICANN, the Generic Name Supporting Organization (GNSO -responsible for gTLDs such as .com or  .gay),   the country code Name supporting Organization (ccNSO – responsible for ccTLDs like .us or .ca), the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC – advise the Board on matters letated to the security and integrity on the Internet’s name and address allocation system), and the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC – responsible for representing the interests of global Internet users) have been developing the charter of the ICANN Cross-community Working Group (CWG) that will represent the names operational community, i.e. will be one of the 3 major contributors to the ICG’s work.  This CWG is being created with the intention of doing a wide outreach for members of the community to participate in making sure that all issues are dealt with properly.  Once the chartering organizations within ICANN approve the charter of the CWG, there will be a wide spread call for participation in the process.  I will post that announcement in the blog when it comes out.

The IANA transition is a critical milestone in the history of the Internet and of ICANN.  If all goes well, part of the responsibility for maintaining an open Internet will be transferred from the US government to the multistakeholder community through an appropriate mechanism.  One of the major issues to be reviewed in the context of this transition are the accountability mechanisms within ICANN.  A separate, parallel review process is currently being initiated to review  and repair as needed, the accountability mechanisms at ICANN.  The next blog entry will cover this effort.

 

 

Update on ATLAS II

Update on ATLAS II

In an earlier entry to this blog, the second global At Large Summit (ATLAS II) was discussed. The final report,  ATLAS-II-Declaration,has been released and offers a number of useful recommendations for ICANN improvement.

The report focuses on the 5 thematic themes of the summit:

  • Future of Multi-Stakeholder Models
  • The Globalization of ICANN
  • Global Internet: The User Perspective
  • ICANN Transparency and Accountability
  • At-Large Community Engagement in ICANN

In each of these categories, the summit offers concrete suggestions for improvement.  Some of them have special importance for the LGBTQI+ community that is the core of the dotgay community.

Recommendation 1, for example, is important to our community,  “ICANN should continue to support outreach programmes that engage a broader audience, in order to reinforce participation from all stakeholders.”  Up to now, the effort for outreach has primarily been geographical, a continuing need.  But the is need for outreach that is broader that just geography.  The outreach needs to extend to communities whose concerns have not yet been discussed within Internet governance ecosystem, for example the global LGBTQI+ community, as well as other communities of endangered minorities.

Recommendation 13 reinforces this further: “ICANN should review the overall balance of stakeholder representation to ensure that appropriate consideration is given to all views, proportionally to their scope and relevance.” While there is not indication that they were referring to communities such as the gay community, it is obvious from the the experience of dotgay over the last years in ICANN that this is essential.

One of the appendices included in the report ICANN’s obligation to serve the Public Interest.

Public Interest in ICANN

The term ‘Public Interest’ within ICANN’s remit remains ambiguous and ill defined. Consequently no consistent measure of the basis and quality of its decisions is possible. The At-Large Community supports the draft ‘FY15 Strategic Plan’s focus area to develop and implement a global public responsibility framework in this regard. This could also clarify that the Internet users are stakeholders and not “consumers”.

 This has been a subject that has frequently come up in regard to dotgay’s community application.  Getting ICANN to treat community applications, such as dotgay’s application for .gay, as being in the public interest has been painful, and expensive, both for dotgay LLC and for the community organizations that are its foundation.

The gay community can and should get involved in the efforts of the At-Large to bolster accountability and service in the public interest at ICANN.  The At-Large is organized around 200 At Large Structures that around the world. Members of the dotgay-community are encouraged to find an ALS in their region and get involved.  Beyond that there is an opportunity for any regional LGBTQI+ organizations to form their own chapters, that is their own At Large structures (ALS).  The At-Large is the voice of the users in ICANN global management of critical Internet resources, and often acts as the organization’s conscience.  As the gay community gets more involved in the Internet ecosystem, the community must assert itself as a stakeholders.  At-Large is a good place to do this..