ICANN has 30 additional days to provide or withhold its consent on controversial .Org sale

The controversial fast flying .Org sale by PIR may finally be slow punctured as ICANN seems to have taken the hint from the comments of stakeholders and is considering the sale more carefully.

Private equity firm Ethos Capital had moved to acquire the Public Interest Registry (PIR), which runs the .org domain used for non-profit organisations’ websites from the Internet Society ISOC.

In a statement, ICANN wrote last week that it sent requests for information to PIR in order to determine whether the transfer should be allowed. “ICANN will thoroughly evaluate the responses, and then ICANN has 30 additional days to provide or withhold its consent to the request,” it said.

This seems to be a backtrack from its earlier statements to the Financial Times that it “does not have authority over the proposed acquisition,” making it seem like the sale was practically a done deal. But even that earlier statement gave ICANN some wiggle room. ICANN “said its job was simply to ‘assure the continued operation of the .org domain’—implying that it could only stop the sale if the stability and security of the domain-name infrastructure were at risk,” the Financial Times wrote on November 28.

Singing “Transparency” as an afterthought?

ICANN has always stated of itself as a transparent organization but given its past behaviour, it is far from that.

In this .Org status, ICANN says it wants to make the transaction-review process more transparent. But ICANN apparently needs PIR’s permission to publish the request for information and PIR’s responses, and so far PIR has refused a request to make documents public. In last week’s letter to PIR and the Internet Society, ICANN General Counsel and Secretary John Jeffrey urged PIR to make the information public:

As you are well aware, transparency is a cornerstone of ICANN and how ICANN acts to protect the public interest while performing its role. In light of the level of interest in the recently announced acquisition of PIR, both within the ICANN community and more generally, we continue to believe that it is critical that your Request, and the questions and answers in follow up to the Request, and any other related materials, be made public.

While PIR has previously declined our request to publish the Request, we urge you to reconsider. We also think there would be great value for us to publish the questions that you are asked and your answers to those questions. We will of course provide you with the opportunity to redact portions of the documents that you believe contain personally identifiable information before posting and renew that offer here.

As you, [ISOC CEO] Andrew [Sullivan], stated publicly during a webcast meeting in which you participated on 5 December 2019, you are uncomfortable with the lack of transparency. Many of us watching the communications on this transaction are also uncomfortable.

In sum, we again reiterate our belief that it is imperative that you commit to completing this process in an open and transparent manner, starting with publishing the Request and related material, and allowing us to publish our questions to you, and your full responses.

It remains to be seen if the sale will be stopped or allowed to proceed.

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