ICANN Accountability Recommendations – Third Time’s the Charm?

Written by Matthew Shears

The ICANN54 meeting in Dublin wrapped up with the Cross Community Working Group (CCWG) on enhancing the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) accountability announcing that it is working towards a third version of its accountability recommendations.  ICANN54 was supposed to be the meeting when it all came together: the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) transition proposal largely ready to send to National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) and the accountability proposal in its final approval stages.  While the IANA transition proposal is almost ready, the same cannot be said for the accountability work – it was not smooth sailing to Dublin.

The CCWG was relatively confident when it sent version two of its accountability recommendations out for public comment back in August.  The proposal was based around the Sole Member Model, in which the community would have broad statutory rights to enforce the powers the community deemed critical to ICANN’s accountability.  But both the ICANN Board and the responses to the public consultation thwarted any chance of the CCWG moving forward with version two.

Both the ICANN Board and the responses to the public consultation thwarted any chance of the CCWG moving forward with version two.

During the second public comment period ICANN’s Board turned its full attention on the work of the CCWG.  Concerned with the degree to which the accountability recommendations might empower the community, the Board submitted their own significantly weaker accountability proposal and announced that they would not support the Single Member Model.  Responses to the public comment furthered the call for a new approach. While there was support for the Single Member Model in the public comment (including from CDT), many questions were raised as to how it would work in practice, how it would be implemented, and how it would affect ICANN’s multistakeholder governance model.

In its 25-plus hours of meetings in Dublin, the CCWG reviewed the public comment (taking into account the ICANN Board’s inputs alongside all other stakeholders) and assessed the critical areas of the proposal.  After significant deliberation, the CCWG determined that an alternate model – the Sole Designator Model, which builds on existing ICANN community powers – was less contentious, could provide largely the same enforceability (although with a greater reliance on changes to the ICANN bylaws) and should be pursued going forward. (A comparison of the Sole Member and Sole Designator models can be found here.)

With so much of the week focused on the model that would be used to exercise the community powers, many issues remain to be addressed.  One of the most challenging is determining how decisions will be made by an empowered ICANN community without changing the delicate balance that exists between ICANN’s Supporting Organizations (SOs) and Advisory Committees (ACs).  These SOs and ACs, have different roles and responsibilities, from policy-making to providing policy advice, and maintaining the balance between them will be essential to successfully empowering the community as a whole.

CDT is  cautiously supportive of pursuing the Sole Designator Model as long as the model still fully satisfies NTIA’s criteria of ensuring the Domain Name System’s stability, security, and resilience to capture (among others); meets the dependences outlined in the names community’s IANA transition proposal, which include the ability to recall the ICANN Board (among others); and,  delivers the enhancements that are essential to ensuring that ICANN is accountable to the community post-transition.

Much of the time spent in Dublin on accountability reforms was very productive, particularly when all stakeholders worked together to address specific issues, such as the ability for the community to veto the budget and remove directors.  This same cooperative and productive spirit will have to characterize the work of the CCWG as it pushes to finalize its third set of recommendations, incorporate further public comment, and wrap up the accountability proposal by the end of January.   It’s clear that the community is deeply invested in seeing through a comprehensive set of accountability reforms that will give the multistakeholder community necessary powers to guide the future direction of ICANN, but much remains to be done and the room to maneuver is fast diminishing if the community wishes to make the transition target date of 30 September 2016.

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