News & Politics

Is ICANN Ready for the Transition to a Multistakeholder Internet?

On or about October 1, the contract the United States government had with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will expire. The contract granted the U.S. formal and final approval of many technical aspects of the internet.

But the motto of the Obama administration appears to be “If it ain’t broke, we ain’t tryin’ hard enough.” The president decreed an end to the USA’s exclusive relationship with ICANN and passed control of the internet on to several public and private entities.

There are worries that ICANN will be dominated by countries that hate free expression or have a decidedly different definition of the concept. And judging by this piece in the Daily Signal, ICANN may not be ready for prime time.

As observed by Lawrence Strickling, administrator for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, “In 2014, we indicated that we felt that ICANN as an organization had finally matured to the point to allow the private sector to take over management of Domain Name System.”

But recent actions by the organization cast serious doubt about this conclusion. Earlier this year, ICANN was challenged in U.S. court regarding its failure to follow proper procedures in awarding the .africa domain name. The dilemma arose from the ICANN board’s attempt to improperly appease governments who had objected to the original delegation.

The case remains pending, and a final adjudication on the merits has yet to be made, but it should trouble all observers that the board’s apparent deference to the Government Advisory Committee has embroiled ICANN in such a long-running and contentious piece of litigation.

More recently, an Independent Review Panel (an arbitral panel for dispute resolution) condemned ICANN in no uncertain terms for its actions involving applications for domains by a company called Dot Registry.

The panel confirmed that ICANN legal staff inappropriately intervened in the report of an independent evaluator. Then it found that the Board Governance Committee, or BGC (the body responsible for responding to requests for reconsideration of board decisions and administering ICANN’s conflict of interest policy), repeatedly failed to do its job. Its decisions were described as “cavalier” and “simply not credible.”

According to the panel, “ICANN failed to apply the proper standards in the reconsiderations at issues, and that the actions and inactions of the board were inconsistent with ICANN’s Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws.”

Specifically, the board “failed to exercise due diligence and care,” “failed to fulfill its transparency obligations,” and the evidence did “not support a determination that the board (acting through the BGC) exercised independent judgement in reaching the reconsideration decisions.”

The fact that ICANN acted in such a high-handed manner in conflict with its bylaws while knowing that the transition was still in question says volumes about the presumptuousness of the staff and leadership. The board’s potential for similar abuse will only increase when the U.S. contract ends.

There are issues with staff accountability and transparency at ICANN that won’t be resolved in time for the transfer. In essence, we are entering this brave new era for the internet bat blind and with little idea what’s going to happen.

President Obama gave the world what they wanted because he has a pathological need to be loved. Russia, China, the Arabs — all complained that America had too much power over the internet. Previous American presidents ignored them. Obama embraced them.

We can now sit back and watch how badly the rest of the world screws up.