ICANN GAC new gTLD interference gets fresh Congressional attention

Senate hearing on IANA transition ICANN ISOC-NY NOTICE BOARD
Senate hearing on IANA transition ICANN ISOC-NY NOTICE BOARD

The ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) articulation and handling of several new top level domains has received under the ICANN new gTLD release has received a new critical but worrisome analysis from the US congressional Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure , Oversight and Government reform and Judiciary.

The GAC which created under the ICANN ByLaws provides advice to ICANN on public policy aspects of ICANN’s responsibilities with regard to the Internet Domain Name System (DNS).

In a June 10 2015 letter to Dr. Steven Crocker Board of Directors Chair, and Mr. Fadi Chehade Chief Executive Officer ICANN, the Congress men wrote to urge the ICANN to address concerns that it may become susceptible to governmental interference without due consideration of policies developed through the multistakeholder process under its current structure.

The letter signed by 11 members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet goes

“ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) appears to have overridden several community-developed policies in recent years. Such an outcome is incompatible with the bottom-up, multistakeholder model reflected in ICANN’s Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws.”

It may be ironical that the US Congress which is itself a governmental body, given the US is a GAC member, but the concern is more to the fact that the US is home to the domains root and the invention that is the internet and has a preliminary right to be worried at the direction of the internet process, especially now that ICANN has been directed to develop a multistakeholder model that will take over the oversight of ICANN.

GAC’s actions can be seen in how some domains have been interfered with over a period of 3 years since the new gTLDS were first launched in 2012. The letter mentions instances where GAC’s overloard o ICANN has been visible

.Amazon, .Africa and other new gTLD victims of GAC

“For example, the GAC has twice called on ICANN to suspend programs that would allow Internet users to register domain names that include country and territory names…In 2014, the GAC likewise advised, without any legal basis, that the ICANN Board reject Amazon’s application for a new generic top level domain (gTLD), notwithstanding the fact that the application met the ICANN’s stated requirements.  Rather than evenly apply these rules, the ICANN Board succumbed to political pressure from several governments.”

Apart from the .Amazon domain, another gTLD thrown to jeopardy due to GAC influence is .Africa which received a contested objection ruling and later went through the Independent Review Process and is still awaiting final results after the May2015 hearing.

The letter also mentions that the

“multistakeholder model is designed to benefit the entire Internet community through an open and transparent process and to prevent government capture. It is vital that ICANN address accountability to the multistakeholder community as part of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (TANA) transition process. We call on ICANN to meaningfully address these concerns prior to the proposed TANA functions transfer.”

GAC need for increased power over ICANN

The Congressional letter also mentions recent reports that the GAC has sought to increase its power at the expense of the multistakeholder system. It is noteworthy to recall that there was an August 2014 proposed bylaws changes regarding consideration of GAC advice. The revisions would incorporate a higher voting threshold (2/3rds) for the Board to determine not to follow the advice of the Governmental Advisory Committee. This proposal was however zealously shot down by comments from the community . The confirmation that this would no longer suffice came when ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade was asked by US Senator Deb Fischer during a US Senate committee hearing whether the threshold change was consistent with ICANN’s” promise to limit the power of governments” in a post-US-oversight world, to which he replied

“You are right, this would be incongruent with the stated goals [of the IANA transition]. The board has looked at that matter and has pushed it back.  So it’s off the table.”

The letter concludes with Congress imploring ICANN to

“support the call for increased transparency through a requirement that ICANN publicly disclose relationships and activities with government officials.” And … “before the transition moves forward, it is essential that ICANN corrects past harms, adopts rules to ensure that GAC follows community guidelines and requirements established by the multistakeholder process, and provides stakeholders with a transparent and independent mechanism for accessing justice.”

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