A recent bylaw proposal from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—which controls the Internet’s naming function and is currently being transitioned from control by the U.S. government to private control—is fundamentally misconceived and threatens to compromise ICANN’s independence.
Currently, governments provide advice to the ICANN board through a Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). But the advice is just advice—nothing more. And if a majority of the board rejects the GAC’s opinion, then the opinion is ignored. Governments do not have any privileged position for seeing that their advice is accepted.
The proposed bylaw amendment would change that. The board has, informally, decided that it should not reject advice from the GAC unless two-thirds of the board agree to do so. And now, the board wants to write that requirement into the bylaws so that a GAC recommendation cannot be rejected by the board unless two-thirds of the board agrees to do so.
Of course, the board will say that the GAC can operate only by consensus, so it will never really receive bad advice from the GAC. But that, too, is subject to change—and some in the GAC have already proposed that the GAC’s rules be changed so that it can act by majority vote. As a result, in the near future a majority of authoritarian countries may push through advice from the GAC that cannot be overturned except by a two-thirds vote of the board.
In other words, instead of moving away from governmental control, as the U.S. government has demanded—the government has said it will “not accept a proposal that replaces” the current federal role “with a government-led…solution”—the ICANN board is moving to institutionalize GAC advice as a near-mandate. This is exactly the wrong step and reflects, if nothing else, a tin ear on the part of the ICANN board. It would certainly make the board less accountable rather than more. It is so bad that if this bylaw proposal were adopted, the U.S. should immediately withdraw its support for the ICANN transition.