How Workstream 2 Plans to Improve ICANN's Transparency

Posted by Asvatha Babu at Nov 10, 2016 01:35 PM |
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The Centre for Internet and Society has worked extensively on ICANN’s transparency policies. We are perhaps the single largest users of the Documentary Information Disclosure Policy. Our goal in doing so is not to be a thorn in ICANN’s side, but to try and ensure that ICANN, the organisation, as well as the ICANN community have access to the data required to carry out the task of regulating the global domain name system.

The transparency subgroup of ICANN’s Workstream 2 dialogue attempts to see how they could effectively improve the transparency and accountability of the organization. The main document under scrutiny at the moment is the draft Transparency Report published a few days before the 57th ICANN meeting in Hyderabad.

The report begins with an acknowledgement of the value of taking tips from the Right to Information policies of other institutions and governments. My colleague Padmini Baruah had earlier written a blog post comparing the exclusion policy of ICANN’s DIDP and the Indian Government’s RTI where she found that “the net cast by the DIDP exclusions policy is more vast than even than that of a democratic state’s transparency law.”[1] The WS2 report not only discusses the DIDP process, but also discusses ICANN’s proactive disclosures (with regard to lobbying etc) and whistleblower policies. This article focuses solely on the first.

As our earlier blog posts have mentioned, CIS sent in 28 DIDP requests over the last two years.  Our experience with DIDP has been less than satisfactory and we are pleased that DIDP reform was an important part of the discussions of this subgroup. The report proposes some concrete structural changes to the DIDP process but skirts around some of the more controversial ones.

The recommendation to make the process of submitting requests clearer is a good one. There are currently no instructions on the follow-up process or what ICANN requires of the requestors. The report also recommends capping any extension to the original 30-day limit to an additional 30 days. While this is good, we further recommend that ICANN stay in touch with the requestor in order to help them to the best of its ability. The correspondence should ideally not be limited to a notification that they require an extension. Any clarifications on the part of the requestor must be resolved by ICANN. We commend the report for pointing out that the status quo – where there is no outside limit for extension of time beyond the mandated 30 days – is problematic as it allows the ICANN staff to give lesser priority to responding to DIDP requests. We strongly suggest that extensions of time on responding to DIDP requests be restricted to a maximum of 7 days after the passing of the 30-day period, after which liability should be strictly imposed on ICANN in the form of an individual fine, analogous to India’s RTI policy.[2]

One of the major areas of focus for this report and for our earlier analysis was the problematic nature of the exclusions to the DIDP. I had written that the conditions were "numerous, vaguely worded and contain among them a broad range of information that should legitimately be in the public domain.”[3] This is echoed by the report which calls for a deletion of two clauses that we found most used in denying our requests for information.

The report also calls into question the subjective nature of the last condition which states that ICANN can deny information if they find requests “not reasonable, excessive or overly burdensome, not feasible, abusive or vexatious or made by a vexatious or querulous individual.” As seen from our blog posts, we are of the firm belief that such a subjective condition has no place in a robust information disclosure policy. Requiring the Ombudsman’s consent to invoke it is a good first step. In addition to that, we strongly encourage that objective guidelines which specify when a requestor is considered “vexatious” be drawn up and made public.

The most disappointing aspect of this report is that it does not delve into details about having an independent party dedicated to reviewing the DIDP process to address grievances. We believe that this must not be left to the Ombudsman who cannot devote all their time to this process. We are of the opinion that an independent party would also be able to more effectively oversee the tracking and periodic review of the DIDP mechanism.

In conclusion, we believe that this report is a good start but does not comprehensively answer all of our issues with the DIDP process as it is. We look forward to more engagement with the Transparency subgroup to close all loopholes within the DIDP process.


[1] Padmini Baruah, Peering behind the veil of ICANN’s DIDP, (September 21, 2015), available at http://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/peering-behind-the-veil-of-icann2019s-didp (Last visited on November 9, 2016).

[2] Section 20(1), Right to Information Act, 2005.

[3] Asvatha Babu, If the DIDP Did Its Job, (November 3, 2016), available at http://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/if-the-didp-did-its-job (Last Visited on November 9, 2016).

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