Phil Corwin weighs in on GNSO “Unanimous” Endorsement for ICANN Independent Accountability

Phil Corwin who writes extensively on Internet governance commented on the recent unanimous GNSO statement at the ICANN 50 in London.  His comments are below

GNSO Constituencies Issue Unanimous Joint Statement on ICANN Accountability

In an unprecedented development, all stakeholder groups and constituencies comprising ICANN”s Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) unanimously endorsed a joint statement in support of the creation of an independent accountability mechanism “that provides meaningful review and adequate redress for those harmed by ICANN action or inaction in contravention of an agreed upon compact with the community”. The statement was read aloud during a June 26th session on the IANA transition process held on the last day of the ICANN 50 public meeting in London.

The creation of this new accountability structure is meant to accompany the transition of the IANA functions away from US control and is intended to encompass accountability issues beyond those that are IANA-specific. Business, intellectual property, and civil society members of the GNSO will likely be delivering the message to Congress and the NTIA that creation of this new accountability mechanism must be assured before any final action is taken on an IANA transition plan developed within ICANN’s multistakeholder community.

During an earlier session on ICANN accountability, I delivered remarks emphasizing that there was a preexisting need for improved ICANN accountability and transparency independent of the IANA transition, but that the contemplated termination of US counterparty status in regard to the IANA contract presented the opportunity and increased the need for establishment of an independent review and redress mechanism to address ICANN actions. I also noted that ICANN’s fairly unique combination of public policy functions and substantial self-funding capabilities created an enhanced need for measures that could address the substantial potential for self-dealing behavior by the organization.

Here is the full text of the unanimous GNSO statement:

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The entire GNSO join together today calling for the Board to support community creation of an independent accountability mechanism that provides meaningful review and adequate redress for those harmed by ICANN action or inaction in contravention of an agreed upon compact with the community. This deserves the Board’s serious consideration – not only does it reflect an unprecedented level of consensus across the entire ICANN community, it is a necessary and integral element of the IANA transition.

True accountability does not mean ICANN is only accountable to itself, or to some vague definition of “the world,” nor does it mean that governments should have the ultimate say over community policy subject to the rule of law. Rather, the Board’s decisions must be open to challenge and the Board cannot be in a position of reviewing and certifying its own decisions. We need an independent accountability structure that holds the ICANN Board, Staff, and various stakeholder groups accountable under ICANN’s governing documents, serves as an ultimate review of Board/Staff decisions, and through the creation of precedent, creates prospective guidance for the board, the staff, and the entire community.

As part of the IANA transition, the multi-stakeholder community has the opportunity and responsibility to propose meaningful accountability structures that go beyond just the IANA-specific accountability issues. We are committed to coming together and developing recommendations for creation of these mechanisms. We ask the ICANN Board and Staff to fulfill their obligations and support this community driven, multi-stakeholder initiative.

By Philip S. Corwin, Founding Principal of Virtualaw LLC, a Washington, DC Law and Public Policy Firm. He also serves as Of Counsel to the IP-centric law firm of Greenberg & Lieberman, and as Strategic Advisor to the ICANN Sherpa DNS-focused consultancy. The views expressed in this article are solely his own.