ICANN Begins its Sojourn into Open Data

Posted by Padmini Baruah and Sumandro Chattapadhyay at Nov 11, 2016 10:05 AM |
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) recently announced that it will now set up a pilot project in order to introduce an Open Data initiative for all data that it generates. We would like to extend our congratulations to ICANN on the development of this commendable new initiative, and would be honoured to support the creation of this living document to be prepared before ICANN 58.


To quote the ICANN blog directly, the aim of this project is to “bring selected data sets into the open, available through web pages and programming APIs, for the purposes of external party review and analysis[1]. This will play out through the setting up of three components:

  1. Development of a catalogue of existing data sets which will be appropriate for publication
  2. Selection of the technology necessary for managing the publication of these data sets.
  3. Creation of a process to prioritise the order in which the data sets are made available [2].

Principles in Question

The Centre for Internet and Society firmly believes in the value of accessible, inclusive open data standards as a tool for enhancing transparency in any system. Greater transparency goes a long way towards bringing a regulatory authority closer to those who are governed under it – be it a state or a body such as ICANN. It is, in fact, an indispensable component of a multistakeholder model of governance to facilitate informed participation by all parties concerned in the decision making process.

The right to information that a regulatory authority owes those it regulates has two kinds of components. The first may be described as reactive disclosure – “when individual members of the public file requests for and receive information[3]. The second is disclosure that is more proactive in nature – “when information is made public at the initiative of the public body, without a request being filed[4]. The former is epitomized by initiatives such as the Freedom of Information Act [5] in the United States, the Right to Information Act in India [6], or ICANN’s very own Documentary Information Disclosure Policy [7].

Proactive disclosure policies, on the other hand, operate out of the principle that the provision of information by those in positions of regulatory authority will ensure free and timely flow of information to the public, and the information so provided will be equally accessible to everyone, without the need for individual requests being filed [8]. Proactive disclosure also goes a long way towards preventing officials from denying or manipulating information subsequent to publication [9]. Scholars have touted proactive disclosure as the “future of the right to know[10].

At the Centre for Internet and Society, much of our research has pointed towards the direction of creating better open data standards for governments (Please see “Open Data Government Study: India”). We are one of the Lead Stewards of the International Open Data Charter [11] and have maintained that it is crucial for governments to maintain open data standards in the interest of transparency and accountability. We firmly believe that the same principles extend also to ICANN – a body which, as per its own by-laws commits towards operating “…to the maximum extent feasible in an open and transparent manner and consistent with procedures designed to ensure fairness[12].


While this policy is in its nascent stage, we would like to put forward certain principles which we believe ought to be kept in mind before it gets chalked out, in the best interest of the ICANN community:

  1. To determine what data sets should be made publicly accessible, it would be useful to carry out an analysis of existing DIDP requests to understand trends in the kind of information that the ICANN community is interested in accessing, which can then be proactively disclosed. It would be redundant on ICANN’s part to disclose, under this Open Data Policy, data which is already publicly available.
  2. ICANN should first develop a catalog of all existing data sets with ICANN, apply the principles for deciding appropriateness for publication, then make publicly available both the full catalog, and the actual data sets identified for publication. ICANN should make clear the kind of information it is not going to make accessible under this open data standards, and justify the principles on the basis of which it is choosing to do so (analogous to the exceptions clauses under the DIDP).
  3. With respect to technology to be selected for managing the publication of data sets, free and open source software (such as CKAN) ought to be used, and open standards should be adopted for the use and licensing of such data.
  4. Such data ought to be downloadable in bulk in CSV/JSON/XML formats.
  5. DIDP responses and the open data work flows ought to be integrated so that all the responses to DIDP requests are automatically published in a machine-readable format as open data.
  6. Qualitative (text of speeches, slides from presentations, recordings of sessions, etc.) and quantitative data should both be included under this new policy.

In conclusion, we would like to extend our congratulations to ICANN on the development of this commendable new initiative, and would be honoured to support the creation of this living document before ICANN 58.


[1] Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN Kicks off Open Data Initiative Pilot, (November 6, 2016), available at https://www.icann.org/news/blog/icann-kicks-off-open-data-initiative-pilot (Last visited on November 9, 2016).

[2] Id.

[3] Naniette Coleman, Proactive vs. Reactive Transparency, (February 8, 2010), available at: http://blogs.worldbank.org/publicsphere/proactive-vs-reactive-transparency (Last visited on November 9, 2016).

[4] Id.

[5] Freedom of Information Act, 1966, 5 U.S.C. § 552.

[6] Right to Information Act, 2005 available at http://righttoinformation.gov.in/rti-act.pdf

[7] ICANN, Documentary Information Disclosure Policy, available at https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/didp-2012-02-25-en (Last visited on November 9, 2016).

[8] Helen Darbishire, Proactive Transparency: The future of the right to information? Working paper. N.p.: World Bank, (2009).

[9] Id.

[10] Darbishire, supra note 8.

[11] Open Data Charter, Who We Are, available at http://opendatacharter.net/who-we-are/ (Last visited on November 10, 2016).

[12] Article III(1), Bylaws For Internet Corporation For Assigned Names And Numbers