The issue of accountability has certainly been a topic of great discussion and debate at ICANN over the past few years, but is the overseer of the Internet’s naming system truly ready to embrace accountability into the organization’s DNA at the levels being requested by the US government and the ICANN community?
Since the proposed IANA transition was first announced, amazing work by the Internet community has been initiated to beef up accountability at ICANN and make it a top priority. This means not only accepting the changes, but actually implanting and living up to an obligation for greater transparency. Whether it is in the new gTLD implementation or in transparency processes necessary for accountability, like DIDP requests, there are too many examples of where ICANN does not live up to current standards. Most readers will be able to recall their own most painful experiences with the lack of accountability by corporate ICANN.
One instance that is painful to the gay community is ICANN’s lack of attention, desire or ability to prevent Community Priority Evaluation (CPE) infractions, or even hold the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) accountable for their evaluations. This has exposed many shortcomings with the process. Basic and reasonable oversight by ICANN designed to ensure process compliance that protects the interests of all applicants and the communities they represent, has clearly not been a priority for ICANN.
Let’s be reminded that community TLDs by design require and provide for community accountability, an especially important attribute for strings that are linked to vulnerable populations prone to abuse. Such accountability requirements also heighten a reciprocal expectation from the community and its stakeholders should the EIU choose to fail a community endorsed application in CPE. Instead, ICANN has refused to honor basic principles of transparency. In the process ICANN is putting at risk the very accountability efforts that communities have sought from community applicants.
Not only has the EIU shown it was not 100% willing or competent to follow its own published guidelines to achieve consistency goals, it has also been shielded by ICANN from having to provide proof of its work or nuanced data used in CPE. Despite asking for research evidence and documents referenced by the EIU, ICANN has refused to pass the request onto the EIU or make them produce materials cited in their results. ICANN’s resistance delivers a stronger “lack of confidence vote” in the EIU’s methods than it does to highlight the organizations commitment to transparency.
In stark contrast to ICANN’s handling of the EIU, the .GAY community application has provided a strong focus on accountability to the gay community and end users since well before reveal day. In fact, it is the only application for .GAY that commits to ongoing oversight and accountability to the LGBTQIA in a manner that extends beyond any letter verification or vague test around reciprocal representation awareness of the community’s largest organization, as conducted by the EIU.
When you step back and look at the bigger picture, what you quickly realize is that ICANN’s issue with accountability is perhaps greater than even the concerns of the US government. Without accountability being part of the fabric and culture used to operate and make decisions as an organization, it will always be pulled into question in moments of crisis. This is exactly what has happened with the gay community’s second CPE, despite prior and numerous concerns elevated around the EIU’s handling of the CPE process.
Offering dotgay LLC a second CPE and calling it accountability was ICANN’s response to having their third party evaluators drawn into question. Perhaps naïve on ICANN’s part, but not unexpected by the gay community, round two of CPE has resulted in further and more serious issues with the same root problem – The EIU and the way they fulfill their responsibilities. Hopefully ICANN sees that more clearly now.
Accountability is not just a thing to measure; it is THE thing to measure in an organization like ICANN whose mandate is to play a leading role in serving the public interest.