Accountability of ICANN

Posted by Smarika Kumar at Apr 23, 2014 06:30 AM |
The issue of how to ensure the legitimacy and accountability of ICANN is a concern which finds voice in many of the proposals. Four broad stands can be gleaned from the submissions to NETmundial '14 on this issue.

The issue of how to ensure the legitimacy and accountability of ICANN is a concern which finds voice in many of the proposals. Generally speaking, the issue of representation, and legitimacy of ICANN members is a point which all proposals regarding ICANN accountability consider. The issue of funding also came up in several of the submissions. The Brazilian Internet Steering Committee, Joint Contribution of Civil Society from Latin America, submissions from University of Gezira in Sudan and NIC Mexico, called for increased funding for participation of stakeholders from developing countries in ICANN and other multistakeholder meetings. The Government of Austria expressed concern over dwindling funding of IGF and called for improvement of the same. In this scenario of crunched funds, submissions by Article 19 and BestBits as well as Net Coalition proposed the use of a percentage of ICANN’s gTLD revenues to fund inclusive participation in the multistakeholder process.

Apart from these concerns, submissions to NetMundial '14 also raised a myriad of different issues around the functioning of ICANN. Nevertheless, four broad stands can be gleaned from the issue of accountability of ICANN. These are as follows:

I. Submissions which suggest that oversight over ICANN should end, and ICANN accountability should be internalised.

8 submissions to the NetMundial 2014 were of the opinion that ICANN should become an independent body with no oversight exercised by any other body on it. In other words, these proposals opposed the replacement of current US government oversight on ICANN, by oversight through any other body. In such a case, accountability of ICANN was sought to be ensured through strengthening multistakeholderism and reform within the ICANN structure.

Most of these submissions came from the civil society (4) or the technical community (2); 1 from Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms, which identifies as “other”, and 1 from the Government of France. 3 of these proposals represent a global community, 2 come from North America or USA, 1 from France, 1 from New Zealand and 1 from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The ICANN model proposed in the submission from Internet Governance Project (IGP), from the North American civil society, found support among other contributors in this category. The proposal was based on the principle that oversight of ICANN must not be internationalised but ended. The rationale behind such proposal was that giving additional stakeholders besides the NTIA a say in IANA function and ICANN oversight will only politicise ICANN and make it a subject of possible geopolitical power struggles by governments, ultimately ignoring the interests of internet users all over the world. While calling for an end to ICANN oversight through any or all government agencies, the proposal also called for the strengthening of multistakeholderism within ICANN. This proposal was explicitly supported by InternetNZ, from the New Zealand technical community, in its proposal, as well as to quite an extent by Article 19 and BestBits, from the global civil society, in their proposal.

IGP’s submission also suggested whittling down of ICANN’s powers in order to separate management of IANA functions from ICANN’s present mandate. This is a point where the submissions in this category diverge. Submissions from IGP with Article 19 and BestBits, Association for Progressive Communications (APC) from the civil society and InternetNZ and Avri Doria, from the technical community, recommended the separation of IANA functions from the ICANN. The French Government submission, on the other hand, did not envisage separation of management IANA function from ICANN, but rather the internalisation of the former within the latter, even as proposing an independent and multistakeholder structure for ICANN with suitable accountability mechanisms for all stakeholders.

The submission from Article 19 and BestBits, in fact, suggested further narrowing of ICANN’s mandate by explicitly including a clause in its bylaws to prevent it from engaging in content regulation or conduct that could violate freedom of expression or privacy on the internet, including technical policy making involving trademarks and intellectual property. Such suggestions were made based on the fear that, if unregulated, ICANN might increasingly make its foray into public policy issues like content regulation, as happened in the .xxx controversy. Consequently, the submission from Article 19 and BestBits also suggested that ICANN’s bylaws include a provision whereby private parties can legally challenge ICANN’s actions on grounds of human rights violations before local courts or arbitration tribunals.

This approval for local dispute resolution when the submission agrees with the suitability of Californian law for ICANN incorporation is, however, likely to cause consternation amongst non-American stakeholders. While the submission is not averse to the idea of ICANN expanding its reach globally through creation of subsidiaries (preferably in western Europe), it also takes a firm stand on ICANN not moving its headquarters out of the US. The advantages of such status quo are seen in stability of current agreements with registrars etc., but the idea of ICANN being ultimately subject to Californian law and its courts is unlikely to go down well with other global stakeholders.

One concern found across board, but more explicitly in submissions of Article 19 and BestBits and Avri Doria was the strengthening of ICANN board by making it more representative and accountable through mechanisms of internal accountability like the ATRT2 Transparency and Accountability Review process. Avri Doria of USA, in her submission suggested, the improvement of accountability mechanisms in ICANN by supplementing the ATRT process with a strong appeals mechanism, as found in IETF, for accountability process and results with powers to remove officers from their roles if they do not fulfil their responsibilities. Strengthening of GAC within ICANN by making it more participatory and representative is another concern which is highlighted.

II. Submissions which suggest that oversight of ICANN should be transferred to a multilateral or intergovernmental body

A second, small category of 4 submissions argued that the oversight function of the ICANN should be transferred from the present unilateral U.S. government (NTIA) oversight, to oversight by all countries. This was suggested to counter the power imbalance exercised by one country over critical internet infrastructure, over others, by sharing oversight of ICANN with all others.

In their details, submissions in this category can be vague. While some of them envisioned transfer of ICANN control by the US Government to an intergovernmental body like the ITU, others do not specify the details of the transfer, but merely mention that ICANN oversight should be multilateral in nature. Submissions from CIPIT, part of the Kenyan academia and The Society for Knowledge Commons, civil society stakeholder covering India and Brazil, mentioned that the oversight of technical policy functions should be “multilateral” in nature, while the submission by the Government of Iran called for restructuring ICANN as an “international” organisation.

The submission by Swiss civil society organisation, Association for Proper Internet Governance, referred to the response by the Syrian representative in ITU to RFC sought by the US Department of Commerce, to bring ICANN in the aegis of ITU by signing of a MoU between the two entities, as far as technical policy decisions (eg. development of policies relating to operation of root servers and those relating to operation and administration of gTLDs and ccTLDs) are concerned. Such a proposal was found necessary in light of the non-binding advisory nature of GAC in ICANN, especially when technical policy decisions by ICANN have public policy implications. In such a scenario, the submission dubs it “strange” to relegate government to a subsidiary role within ICANN and “unusual (to say the least)” for governments to constitute a sub-committee of the board of a private company like ICANN. Consequently, the MoU between ITU and ICANN is sought to make GAC a group within ITU so as to strengthen its legitimacy and accountability.

III. Submissions which suggest that oversight of ICANN should be transferred to another body not intergovernmental in nature.

10 submissions suggested the transfer of ICANN oversight to a non-intergovernmental or multilateral body. 2 of these proposals came from governments and 1 from the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee, which identifies as “other”, 3 from the private sector, 2 from civil society and 1 from technical community and academia each. Most of these proposals come from European stakeholders (5), 1 each from Brazil and Argentina, 1 from India, 1 from Nigeria, and 1 from the global civil society group, Just Net Coalition.

Like the last category, these submissions also expressed their dissatisfaction with the unilateral US Government oversight of ICANN, but suggested replacing it with a non-multilateral body. Details of the composition of such bodies vary. Some called for replacement by a technical body, other envision a wholly newly created multistakeholder body, yet others called for signing of the present ICANN AoC with US Government, by a number of stakeholders, which would not include just governments.

One such submission came from Portuguese academic, Luis Magalhaes, which called for the signature of ICANN AoCs with all the stakeholders in internet governance, thus effectively replacing oversight by NTIA to oversight by all stakeholders. This submission also expressed concern over the incorporation of ICANN under Californian law, and suggests that ICANN should be regulated in an international law framework, though without relinquishing its control to merely governments. Submission by the private sector stakeholder Orange Group also looked to expand the AoC of ICANN to include within it, the “ICANN community and stakeholders including Governments represented through the GAC.”

Private sector stakeholder from the UK, Nominet, similarly, called for wider engagement in the ICANN AoC and ensuring wider engagement for transparency and accountability in the AoC process. It also called to end ambiguity about the legal jurisdiction for ICANN, while including and strengthening ITU and IGF in the internet governance ecosystem. Submission by private player, Data Security Council of India, while endorsing “a multistakeholder model with defined roles of relevant stakeholders” was vaguer about the model it sought for ICANN. But it called for nomination of stakeholders by Governments rather than ICANN selecting them without transparency.

The Austrian Government submission, on the other hand, was more ambiguous. It envisaged the extension of AoCs regarding ICANN and IANA while ensuring “the full participation of all stakeholders, from both developed and developing countries, within their respective roles and responsibilities.” In its submission, the Government of Argentina sought to “promote the internationalisation of ICANN through a deep revision of the current structure,” and ensure “active representation from all regions and all actors in the ICANN structure, including representatives of governments on an equal footing,” especially in the structures of ICANN Board, SSAC and GNSO.

The submission by Brazilian Internet Steering Committee similarly, looked to export oversight to entities outside of ICANN in its submission, as long as such entities are recognised as representative of the international public interest. This was suggested with the rationale to avoid a situation where the same organisation is responsible is responsible for policy making as well as its implementation. The Committee also suggested strengthening of ATRT2 process, as well as reform of GNSO and of ALAC so that the latter can have transparent processes for nomination of members, as well as participate in policy development processes in GNSO, along with increased government participation in GNSO. It was also suggested that the number of ICANN Board seats allocated by NomCom should be reduced in order to increase slots for Board members directly elected by the SOs.

Other submissions offered a more detailed view into the composition of the oversight entity recommended to replace NTIA. The submission by global civil society organisation, Just Net Coalition, for example, proposed the formation of a “Internet Technical and Advisory Board” to discharge ICANN oversight function by replacing the present NTIA oversight role. In addition, this board was recommended to advice on public policy perspectives to various technical standards bodies, and thus act as the link between public policy bodies and these standards bodies. The composition of such a board was recommended to consist of people with specialised technical expertise but also with appropriate political legitimacy, ensured via a democratic process. 10-15 members were envisaged in such a board which could include 1 member from each of the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). 2-3 members from each of the 5 geographic regions as understood in the UN system to be selected through an appropriate process by the relevant technical standards bodies and/or country domain name bodies of all the countries of the respective region were suggested to be part of the board. It was preferred that these members would come from the top recognised technical academic bodies of each country/region, but the entire constitution of the board was left open to other suggestions in Just Net Coalition’s submission.

The technical community stakeholder, Nigeria Internet Registration Association, on the other hand, offered a rather confused proposal for the formation of a “World Internet Governance Organisation (WIGO),”envisaged as “a global organisation with equal participation of the Government, Private sector, Civil Society, Technical Community in a multi-stakeholder consensus building NET-NATIONS.” But while in the beginning the submission suggests a multistakeholder composition of WIGO, seemingly for oversight of ICANN, later the submission sparks the idea that ICANN itself should be changed to WIGO.

Global Geneva’s submission proposed to transfer ICANN oversight to a body called World Internet Forum, which, while part of the UN system, is envisioned as a multistakeholder venue for citizens globally, where constituencies are not governments. ICANN is allowed to pursue technical policy functions like gTLD management under the supervision of WIF, while not encroaching on public policy matters. IANA function is envisaged to be managed separately from the ICANN.

In many of these submissions, like those of Argentinian Government and Brazilian Internet Steering Committee emphasis was also paid on the strengthening of GAC, while taking into consideration stakeholders other than governments.

IV. Submissions which endorse globalisation and multistakeholder governance of ICANN but are vague about the specifics of such governance model

Lastly, there are submissions which call for the globalisation of ICANN and express their dissatisfaction with the U.S. Government oversight of it, while endorsing multistakeholder governance. However, these submissions are also vague about the details of such ICANN globalisation, and the structures in which it will be held accountable.  4 such submissions emerge from governments (Spain, Norway, Mexico and the European Commission), 6 from the private sector, 2 from the technical community, and 2 from the civil society. Europe leads in this category of proposals with 6 of these proposals emerging from there, 2 from Latin America and Mexico each (4 altogether), 1 from Kuwait, 1 from Japan, 1 from the NRO (identifying itself from Mauritius) and 1 from the global GSM Association of mobile operators.

A list of these submissions is provided below.

Sl.No.

Proposal No.

Name of Proposal

Organisation

Sector

Region

Link

46

Norwegian Contribution to the Sao Paulo Meeting

Norwegian government

Government

Norway, Europe

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/norwegian-government/137

50

Contribution from the GSM Association to the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance

GSMA

Private Sector

Global

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/contribution-from-the-gsm-association-to-the-global-multistakeholder-meeting-on-the-future-of-internet-governance/141

51

Contribution of Telefonica to NETmundial

Telefonica, S.A.

Private Sector

Spain

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/contribution-of-telefonica-to-netmundial/143

56

ETNO Contribution to NETmundial

ETNO [European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association]

Private Sector

Belgium

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/etno-contribution-to-netmundial/148

64

Submission by AHCIET to the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance. NETmundial

AHCIET

Private Sector

Latin America

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/submission-by-ahciet-to-the-global-multistakeholder-meeting-on-the-future-of-internet-governance-netmundial/157

70

Spanish Government Contribution to the Global Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance

Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism, Spain

Government

Spain

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/multistakeholder-human-rights-stability-gac/165

80

Roadmap for the Further Evolution of the Internet Governance Ecosystem

European Commission

Government

Europe

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/roadmap-for-the-further-evolution-of-the-internet-governance-ecosystem/177

  1. 10.

106

Submission on Internet Governance Principles and Roadmap for the Further Evolution of the Internet Governance Ecosystem

Kuwait Information Technology Society

Civil Society

Kuwait

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/kuwait-information-technology-society-kits-submission-on-internet-governance-principles-and-roadmap-for-the-further-evolution-of-the-internet-governance-ecosystem/214

111

Content Submission by the Federal Government of Mexico

Secretara de Comunicaciones y Transportes, Mexico

Government

Mexico

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/content-submission-by-the-federal-government-of-mexico/219

10.

114

Better Understanding and Co-operation for Internet Governance Principles and Its Roadmap

Japan Internet Service Providers Association

Private Sector

Japan

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/better-understanding-cooperation-for-internet-governance-principles-its-roadmap/222

11.

116

Deutsche Telekom’s Contribution for to the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance

Deutsche Telekom AG

Private Sector

Germany/Europe

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/deutsche-telekom-s-contribution-for-to-the-global-multistakeholder-meeting-on-the-future-of-internet-governance/225

12.

135

Joint Contributions of Civil Society Organisations from Latin America to NetMundial

Group of individuals and Civil Society Organizations from Latin America

Civil Society

Latin America

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/joint-contributions-of-civil-society-organizations-from-latin-america-to-netmundial/251

13.

143

NRO Contribution to NETmundial

NRO (for AFRINIC, APNIC, ARIN, LACNIC, RIPE-NCC)

Technical Community

Mauritius

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/nro-contribution-to-netmundial/259

14.

183

NETmundial Content Submission- endorsed by NIC Mexico

NIC Mexico

Technical Community

Mexico

http://content.netmundial.br/contribution/netmundial-content-submission-endorsed-by-nic-mexico/302

***

A previous version of this post performed preliminary analysis of the NETmundial submissions. It may be found here.

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