The IANA oversight transition watch: More voices against a rushed process. Not yet Independence ICANN!

The 2015 target to cut free ICANN from the NTIA ‘Oversight’ may be too ambitious atleast from the latest scrutiny from several respected bodies. ICANN is slowly but surely facing an uphill task proving that it is ready to go in alone in managing the world’s only internet domain names root.

The NTIA announced in early 2014 the intention to allow ICANN to become an independent organization free from the US oversight, much as many may deny the fact, this effort could have been spawned by the aftermath of the Snowden leakage of the surveillance programs that irked the world atlarge especially leaders who had been personally targeted in the espionage.

To correct ICANN’s status and place in the internet governance and management there is an ongoing effort within ICANN to propose a model that excludes any government backed strategy. However even in these efforts, the voices that are growing louder seem to suggest that ICANN is not ready, not until it has proven that it cannot be interfered with by autocratic regimes like China and Russia that are against internet freedom, apart from this ICANN also faces serious demands to up its own transparency and accountability mechanisms, up-to date ICANN has not been convincing enough.

Among those strongly voicing concerns in the recent times include America’s powerful Government Accountability Office (GAO) who has been asked to interview key people in Washington DC over the proposed move – and the results are likely to form the basis for a number of hearings in the new year. This is understood to be an audit process, an act that has been missing in the transition discussions. The Audit is likey to result in very serious questions that could likely delay the ICANN independence.

According to the Register,

The GAO was asked by the chairmen of two congressional panels – the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Communications and Technology Subcommittee – to review NTIA’s plans to hand the keys to ICANN.

The auditors will put two broad questions and 10 finer questions to people with expertise in the field of internet governance. The two framing questions are:

  1. What potential risks have been identified related to transferring NTIA’s role over certain domain name functions to the private sector?

  2. To what extent do NTIA’s criteria for evaluating proposals address any identified risks related to this transition?

As to the interview questions, the most interesting are:

  • How would you describe the current US role with regard to these domain name functions? (According to NTlA, it has a clerical and stewardship role, while other stakeholders have described NTIA’s role as an important “backstop” that ensures stability of the Internet.)

  • NTIA has stressed recent improvements to ICANN’s transparency and accountability. What problems were there in ICANN’s operations, how has the implementation of recent recommendations improved things, and how do these issues relate to NTIA’s proposed transition?

  • What are the potential risks, if any, of transitioning NTIA’s role to a multi-stakeholder community in the near and long-term?

  • What factors should be considered for evaluating transition proposals? To what extent do NTIA’s identified criteria address potential risks?

Recently the U.S. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) – a member of the House Ways and Means Committee – issued the following statement today after introducing H.R. 5737, the Defending Internet Freedom Act of 2014. The legislation would prevent the Obama administration, or that of any future president, from relinquishing the critical functions of the Internet – currently stewarded by the United States – to any other entity without enhanced congressional oversight and until explicit, freedom-protecting requirements are met. It is being co-sponsored by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), who also serves as chairman and co-founder of the Congressional High Tech Caucus.

Commenting on the same issue, Paul Rosenzweig notes that

“This is is a very important issue politically and economically. Nations like Russia have made no secret of their desire to use international organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an arm of the United Nations, to assert authority over the Internet as a means for limiting speech that is critical of or damaging to their interests. Even some democratic nations like those in the European Union have supported limiting undesirable speech, or limiting economic freedoms online. If they succeed, a vital medium for speech and political discourse could be crippled.”

ICANN has a tough future in convincing the US government and the world that it is ready to go it alone, given the way the new gTLD progress has been managed, this independence Is not imminent as expected.