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Cybersecurity & Standards

Narrow Mission, Consensus-Based Processes Critical to ICANN’s Future

It’s getting to be decision time for the future of ICANN–the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers–and the Obama Administration is going to have to get up to speed quickly. Since its creation in 1998, ICANN has managed the Internet’s domain name system (DNS) under several contracts with the U.S. government. One of those contracts, known as the Joint Project Agreement, expires on September 30 of this year. This “JPA” has been used to spur ICANN procedural reform. ICANN says it has done enough, so that the U.S. can cut the umbilical cord. Most observers, even those who support the independence of ICANN, say it is just a little too soon to let go. In comments filed with the U.S. Department of Commerce today, CDT laid out its most detailed roadmap yet for ICANN’s transition to full independence. CDT has long argued that ICANN should be freed of U.S. control, but only if it is accountable to the global Internet community and protected from interference by other governments.

In our comments today, CDT set out five steps that must be taken to make ICANN fully independent. Central among these is limiting ICANN’s mission solely to matters affecting competition, security and stability of the DNS and requiring consensus among affected stakeholders for the adoption of ICANN rules. In essence, CDT is saying that ICANN should make policy the way that standards bodies do – through multi-stakeholder consensus, without giving governments any special say. If ICANN foreswears any interest in broader questions of Internet governance — if it makes it clear, for example, that it has no role in questions of Internet security beyond the DNS — and if it adheres to the consensus principle in making decisions, then it can safely stand on its own. To get there will require U.S. government leadership as well as good faith dialogue among governments and the Internet community globally.

In its comments today, CDT argued for a one-year extension of the JPA, but we urged that the revised JPA be focused on (1) narrowly defining the ICANN mission in a binding way, (2) affirming consensus-based decision-making standards,(3) development of an appeal process, (4) addressing relationships with governments and (5) the institutionalization of procedural standards.