Some unexpected fireworks emerged from the 50th public meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, held in London from June 22-26—fireworks that should be of interest to Congress as it considers the ramifications of the Obama administration’s announcement that it does not intend to renew its contract with ICANN.
The first controversy involved France’s attack on ICANN after it failed in its bid to freeze allocations of the ‘.vin’ and ‘.wine’ domain name suffixes. France argued allocation of these domain names should be subject to safeguards designed to protect the integrity of intellectual property and brands critical to the French wine industry, such as “Champagne” and “Bordeaux.”
Following its failure, the French delegation announced, “Today ICANN is not the appropriate forum to discuss internet governance” because “ICANN’s procedures highlight its inability to take into account the legitimate concerns of states.” To remedy this, France called for the establishment of a new international organization to govern the Internet with a “one country, one vote” system.
France may have a legally sound basis for its demands, but if the Internet is to grow and remain free, governments cannot be allowed to dictate ICANN decisions. France’s tantrum plays into the hands of authoritarian countries who would eagerly embrace an inter-governmental body for Internet governance they could use to expand their efforts to censor and regulate web content.
The second controversy involved a rebuke to ICANN that took the form of an unprecedented unanimous statement from all the stakeholder groups and constituencies that make up ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization expressing their unease with ICANN’s current lack of transparency and accountability:
“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. This deserves the Board’s serious consideration – not only does it reflect an unprecedented level of consensus across the entire ICANN community, it is a necessary and integral element of the IANA transition.
“True accountability does not mean ICANN is only accountable to itself, or to some vague definition of “the world,” nor does it mean that governments should have the ultimate say over community policy subject 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 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.”
Taken together, these controversies clearly illustrate that ICANN does not enjoy the trust of governments or of the Internet community. This makes it imperative that the U.S. not end its role in the assignment of Internet names and numbers before adequate checks and balances are put in place to ensure that an independent ICANN, acting without U.S. oversight, is transparent and accountable to the Internet community it is supposed to represent and cannot be hijacked by governments or intergovernmental organizations.