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Update on communities and accountabilty at ICANN

dotgay has been enduring in its quest to obtain its deserved community status, the community status that enables the Gay community to finally get the contract on our community TLD, .gay. After having been the victim of a faulty first Community Priority Panel (CPE) evaluation, they are undergoing a re-evaluation. The results of this evaluation will have a strong effect on whether the Gay community gets its domain name .gay – they wait, and they wait and they wait … Keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the decision that recognizes and supports the Gay community of LGBTQIA individuals and organizations.

dotgay has also continued its work at ICANN on other important issues. As the years in the struggle to gain the community TLD have shown, there are two serious deficiencies at ICANN: respect for communities and accountability. dotgay is engaged in efforts in both areas.

In terms of respect for communities, we are still suffering though a system that puts any community through an ordeal to prove itself to a  group of so-called experts who know nothing about our communities. We are working together with other community applicants in the Community gTLD Applicant Group (CTAG) on appeals to the Ombudsman for fairness. The Ombudsman is investigating the complaints from the CTAG  and we are awaiting his final determination and recommendations. We can only hope at this point that the evidence of unfairness that community applicants have presented are heeded. CTAG presented evidence on the injustice inherent in the way a program that was meant to support communities was transformed by ICANN into a program that punishes communities.

Beyond the problems in the current new gTLD program, work has begun on follow-on gTLD program. If we want to see community applications respected in the future we will need to make sure this program is designed to help communities, especially those from developing regions and endangered communities. There was a discussion group over the last year that came up with a set of issues that needed to be resolved before any further new gTLDs applications were opened. Members of the CTAG, including from dotgay, participated in this group to advocate support for communities in the future. There will be many opportunities to get engaged in the working group that designs the next set of policies and implementations over the next few years.

The other issue critical for the gay community, as well as the rest of the Internet, is ICANN’s Accountability. Over the last year, dotgay has been involved in a process meant to improve ICANN Accountability. That accountability process is one part of the process – currently under review – of transitioning oversight of ICANN from the National Telecommunications and Information  Administration (NTIA) of the the US Department ot Commerce to the stakeholders  of the Internet, including the Names operations (ICANN), the Numbers operations (NRO) and the Protocol operations (IETF). In terms of accountability, a major part of the focus has centered on ICANN’s redress mechanisms including:

  • The Reconsideration Requests – when an appeal goes to the Board to request reconsideration of a staff action or a Board decisions
  • The Independent Review Panel (IRP) – when an appeal goes to an external appeals panle
  • The Ombudsman – who can take appeals based on the fairness of treatment by ICANN of its stakeholders

As gTLD applicants, dotgay has experience with the Reconsideration Requests and with the Ombudsman. Whether dotgay will need to appeal to the IRP remains to be seen based on the results obtained from the the latest CPE. The Cross Community Working Group on ICANN Accountability has now released a second draft of recommendations for improvements, including improvements in the various redress mechanisms. These are important improvements that need to be supported and included in the bylaws of ICANN. The recommendations are currently undergoing review, and the dotgay-community is encouraged to comment.

If there is interest in the dotgay-commuity in any of the subject discussed in this update, a webinar can be arranged to explain the process and the changes.

IANA Stewardship process and ICANN accountability at the ICANN Studienkreis and IGF 2014

The meetings

The  IANA Stewardship Transition process (IST) was discussed extensively both at the the ICANN Studienkreis and and the Internet Governance Forum 2014.  The ICANN Studienkreis is a yearly program organized in Europe where high level experts on ICANN issues are brought together to discuss subjects related to Internet governance and the development of ICANN. This year’s meeting was held in Sofia, Bulgaria from 28-19 August. A panel discussion at the Studienkreis included experts from the US government, the ICANN Government Advisory Committee (GAC), the European Regional Internet Registry (RIR) responsible for the assignment of IP addresses to European ISPs and from Verisign responsible for .com and for maintenance of the root zone for the internet. I was privileged to be invited as the moderator of this discussion.

The Internet Governance Forum, is a multistakeholder process that was initiated by the United Nations in 2005 with a 5 year mandate that was renewed for another 5 years in 2009.  Each year the IGF holds an annual meeting where they bring together the various stakeholders in the Internet ecosystem to discuss a multitude of issues.  This year’s meeting welcomed over 3000 participants from around the world and from all stakeholder groups including Academia, Business, Civil society, Government, and the Internet technical community.

One of the presentations at the Studienkreis was a very stern warning from one of the more senior members of the community, David Maher from Public Interest Registry. His talk on Accountability and Redress has been published on Circleid.  This talk did a very good job of expressing the viewpoint of many of the discussants at both meetings regarding ICANN and accountability.  It starts out with [1]:

In ICANN circles these days, accountability is the buzz word. Nearly everybody is talking about it. Generally everybody is in favor of it, but that’s where the agreement ends. This paper urges action by ICANN to provide a means for redress of grievances as an essential element of accountability.

He went on to explain the system of redress at ICANN:

Independent third party review was the procedure invoked by ICM[2]. At the time ICM requested review, in June 2008, the standard of review was simple and straightforward:

“Requests for such independent review shall be referred to an Independent Review Panel (“IRP”), which shall be charged with comparing contested actions of the Board to the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, and with declaring whether the Board has acted consistently with the provisions of those Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws.”

Effective in April 2013, the ICANN Board made a number of significant changes in the standard of review. First, requests for review are now referred to an Independent Review Process Panel (emphasis added). In other words, only the process is subject to review, not the real question whether the Board acted consistently with the ICANN articles and bylaws.

After discussing some of the failures of the approach taken by the Board on the issue of redress, the talk ended with:

The unanimous statement by the constituencies and stakeholder groups making up the GNSO put it clearly:

“The entire GNSO join 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.

The sentiment expressed at the Studienkreis by Maher was repeated again and again in many different ways in meetings throughout the Studienkreis meeting as well as those held during IGF 2014.

There were several sessions held at IGF 2014 on the IANA Stewardship Transition and on Accountability.  Two sessions included a member of the dotgay staff.  These sessions have been recorded are are available:

Given the pervasive sentiment that ICANN currently provided weak accountability mechanisms, the discussion on the IANA Stewardship transition circled back to the belief that any plan for transition of the NTIA stewardship for IANA depended on adequate methods of redress and oversight for IANA, and could not proceed unless those issues were resolved.  One proposed solution, the creation of a new multistakeholder oversight body was questioned on its accountability attributes. It was asked, “to whom would such a oversight body be accountable,” given that representative structures are still difficult to define in the current multistakeholder model.  The problem was termed the infinite regress of accountability.  As the discussions went on, suggestions were made for defining accessible methods of binding arbitration to resolve blocking issues.  The discussion are ongoing and there are many devils in the design details of any solution. As these discussions proceed, they will be reported on this site. It should be noted that at least two of the operational communities, the protocol parameters and the IP addressing, have argued that their accountability mechanisms are sufficient and do not need to be improved.  There are many members of the global community who take issue with this assertion.  The discussions continue and there is plenty of opportunity for comment by members of our community.

(It is worth mentoning that the IANA/ICANN issue was but one of the themes discussed at the IGF meeting.  Further entries will touch on some of those issues and pointers to some of the better community blogs written on the subject of the meeting will be provided. In the meantime, all of the sessions for the IGF are being made available.  More of the sessions are added as time goes on.)

Updates on the Processes

The work has begun on the two parallel but connected processes; IANA Stewardship and ICANN Accountability.

IANA Stewardship

The IANA Stewardship Coordination Group has held several meetings since it was established.  It has completed its charter and a request for Transition Proposals and has released a suggested process timeline.  It has organized itself around the 3 silos representing the three main IANA functions: Domain Names, IP addresses (IPv4 and IPv6) and protocol parameters.  Each of the operational communities, the solos:

  • ICANN cross community working group (CWG) for names such a gTLDs and ccTLDs. A call for membership in this group will go out shortly.
  • The Numbers Resource organization (NRO) and the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) for IP addresses and autonomous system numbers.
  • The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) for protocol parameters

have begun their work on producing their recommendations on various email lists[3].

Additionally, there will be calls for comments from the global Internet community. The ICG charter is quite specific about how comments will be handled, they will be forwarded to the operational communities for processing. What is less certain is how they will handle cross-cutting solutions that may be offered either as proposals or as comments.  When discussed, the answer is of the type: that bridge will be crossed if and when such a cross cutting proposal is offered.  Time will tell. The process suggested by the ICG is that those who have ideas for cross-cutting mechanisms participate in all three of the operational group processes.  I am currently following all of the efforts and will report on them as they begin to develop their solutions, with particular emphasis on the solutions discussed in the domain name space.

ICANN Accountability

As discussed in an earlier blog on ICANN Accountability, the process of reviewing ICANN Accountability includes several components:

– A cross community group that members of the LGBTQI community were encouraged to join by sending email to accountability-ccg-members@icann.org

– A Community Coordination Group to work with the cross community group and to develop the recommendations on ways to resolve ICANN accountability problems, especially those that may result from the transition of the NTIA’s responsiblities.

The ICANN community, a union of all of the major ICANN structures, the Supporting Organizations and the Advisory Communities, had sent a letter objecting to the proposal proposed by ICANN.  While there were many specific issues with were documented in a separate letter, the main issue was that the process was decided on by the ICANN Board and Staff without adequate consultation with the community.  While technically there had been a community consultation as required, the resulting outcome was so different from anything that anyone expected, that a second community review should have been held.  After meetings at the IGF between the community and the ICANN senior staff, ICANN staff agreed to open a 21 days comment period, which will end on 27 September. dotgay-community members should feel free to comment on these important issues and questions.

Another process that is ongoing is the Accountability and Governance Public Experts group has begun its work and has put out a call for experts to be considered for membership in the Accountability Coordination Group. Because of the open comment period on the process, they have extended the call until 30 September 2014, so now is the time to recommend experts from the international LGBTQI community who can be considered for membership.  The experts need to have expertise in a subset of the following areas:

  • 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

Nominees to the process need to have time to contribute to the process of making recommendation for ways to improve ICANN accountability.

A public webinar will be held on Monday, 15 September from 14:00 – 16:00 UTC on the Accountability process.



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.