Monday, 28 January 2008

ICANN: Declaration of Independence

BBC News reports that ICANN has made a plea to the US Department of Commerce to become fully independent. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7205609.stm). These news come after many years of controversy surrounding the corporation and its affiliation and influence by the US Government.
In 2006, ICANN entered a Joint Project Agreement (JPA) with the US Government agreeing to collaborate in the "developement of the mechanisms, methods, and procedures necessary to effect the transition of Internet domain name and addressing system (DNS) to the private sector". (http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/agreements/jpa/icannjpa_09292006.htm) This Agreement is due to terminate at the end of September 2009.
According to the President of ICANN, Paul Twomey the agreed objectives between ICANN and the US DoC were "essentially complete". And he added: "Has the process of the MoU and JPA towards building a stable, strong organisation which can do this transition, has that been successful? The board is effectively saying yes".
But, what does this mean? In reality ICANN's independence is something that many have been wishing for. However, will it work? Now, this is a whole different story.
With the Internet Governance debate ongoing, ICANN still tries to place itself and define the scope of its authority on the Internet Governance arena. What this independece implies and, better yet, who will actually be responsible for monitoring ICANN's actions?
According to Mr. Twomey governments would still be able to inform the corporation about developments concerning public policy issues, but they would not be able to influence or dictate ICANN's developement.
If that is the case, this approach will raise a number of new questions. ICANN is already under attack over its 'masonic' structure, secretive meetings, non-inclusive role and generally the way it has been hanlding issues pertaining to the addressing system, like for instance its Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, the addition of new gTLDs in the addressing system and WHOIS concerns. With no one to keep ICANN under scrutiny and with issues of Internet Governance and the role of the private sector still being far from resolved, the corporation can acquire more power and control than it currently holds.
Even though it is still very early to make assumptions, one can not help but wonder whether we will find ourselves thinking that the old status of ICANN would actually be better than the proposed new one.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I don't know what is worse, ICANN independent or under the US influence. Either way the corporation has a long way to prove its ability to actually excercise governance. But no matter what, ICANN should only be responsible for the technical management of the Internet and with no oversight body and judging by its history it is likely that it will proceed to policy making. This is an issue that the next IGF should definitely tackle and try to set the boundaries for ICANN's actions.

John said...

It would be very interesting indeed to see how this plan will go. But more interestingly how ICANN will fit within the next IGF, if indeed it goes independent. And, more importantly, how the other stakeholders at the IGF will view ICANN if it goes autonomous.