ICANN continues opposition to human rights safeguards

Human Rights obligations are something that obtain in respect of the relationship between the individual and the State, that is to say between the individual on the one hand, and governments/public authorities on the other.

This is fairly obvious, because governments and public authorities may regulate  human activity, so it’s commonly accepted that there should be certain limits on this.

ICANN is a multimillion dollar corporation which few people in the outside world have heard of, yet it affects, at the overall, and fundamental, the way the whole internet works

Human rights includes some absolute things like the right to life, and freedom from slavery and torture.  Clearly, these rights are not engaged in respect of ICANN’s work.

But human rights also includes the right to property (including intellectual property), the right to privacy and the right to free expression — three things that are very closely associated with ICANN’s mission.

The problem is this:

At the moment, there is a backstop giving authority and legitimacy to ICANN’s work.  The US Government does have responsibilities to ensure (however it does it) that fundamental and human rights are respected.

Whilst you could argue how effective it is in this regard, there is no doubt that the United States supports the rights set out in the Universal Declaration (of which the US was a member of the drafting commission).

Once ICANN is entirely a private sector organisation, it will have no legal or other obligations to respect fundamental and human rights whatsoever.

The only remaining influence that could keep ICANN on the straight and narrow, regarding matters of respect for human rights, will be the GAC – an advisory committee made up of government representatives, tasked with providing advice on public policy matters to ICANN.

However, the GAC is a complex organisation, which has, in microcosm, many of the difficulties that beset other multinational organisations.

The Cross Community Working Group on ICANN Accountability, has however, reached a strong consensus on the issue, which is

ICANN must incorporate a binding commitment to human rights principles before transition may proceed..

However the working group also fully recognises that such a commitment can only apply within ICANN’s limited and defined mission of coordinating the internet’s system of identifiers. It should be obvious to anyone who gives the matter more than 30 seconds thought that ICANN is not going to be expected to become a mini-UN peacekeeping force. And no one is suggesting this.

A rudimentary commitment to international human rights standards is already there, to some extent.

Article 4 of ICANN’s Articles of Incorporation (which was examined in the .XXX adjudication) creates, under California law, a binding obligation to follow applicable international law.

In its response, the ICANN Board appeared to reject the principle of human rights safefguards for ICANN’s work, saying it was ‘premature’.

In a face-to-face meeting in Santa Monica today, the Board appeared to row back slightly from this, but the air was nonetheless full of hypothetical strawmen as to why it might be dangerous to add a commitment for respect for human rights into ICANN’s mission.

 And it’s still unclear whether the Board will accept that ICANN should have this fundamental duty to the global public interest.

If it does not, however, it will create the very unwanted attention regarding lack of accountability that it seeks to avoid.

Ubi vires?

The following is my submission during the Public Comment phase of the IANA Transition Proposal

The IANA Transition Proposal is a proposal to transfer existing apparent residual powers currently exercised by the United States Government in respect of the important Internet Assigned Numbers
Authority (IANA) function; day-to-day operations being carried out by ICANN under a contract awarded to it by the Federal Government.

It is notable and welcome that the Proposal appears to recognise, to a large extent, the need for the Corporation to have real and enforceable accountability to those whom the Corporation, in the future, will regulate, or have significant economic effects upon by virtue of the IANA role.

As the business goal of the Corporation is to “co-ordinate at the overall level the Internet’s system of unique names and numbers”, it can clearly be seen that this means ICANN must needs find ways to be held accountable to the whole world: that is to say, business, civil society and public authorities world-wide.

The Proposal contains many interesting features, ostensibly designed to achieve this goal. They may (or may not) do so to the needed extent. Others equally qualified to comment have already, and will, provide input on these specific features.

Accordingly I choose to focus this, my formal submission on the Proposal, to a more fundamental question, which I submit, is required to be answered before transition may proceed.

That question can be summarised as follows: ”Whence derive the powers?”.  More specifically, it is submitted that as a pre-requisite of transition, it must be necessary to understand with complete clarity the following:

  1.  the legal basis for the existing role of the agencies of the United States;
  2. under what existing statutory powers or proposed legislation the proposed transfer of powers from the United States to a California non-profit corporation is to take place; and
  3. precisely which powers are proposed to be transferred from the United States to the selected private sector body by virtue of the IANA transition.

It is axiomatic, and trite to say that the principle of the Rule of Law (not to mention the constitution of the US) demands a government of laws, not governance by men. Yet, it seems to this author, the Proposal curiously lacks the necessary fundamental background of the powers involved. It is submitted that it is only reasonable to expect that the Proposal should set this out with precision and clarity before delving into the technical mechanics of how a future ICANN, once removed from the benevolent oversight of the United States’ Department of Commerce, would operate.

To the writer, it appears to be envisaged in the Proposal, that post-transition the Corporation (ICANN) will have untrammelled powers to co-ordinate (that is to say: to regulate) the Internet’s unique system of names and numbers in accordance with ICANN policies and its world-view of the global interest.

It further appears that, post-transition, that the operator for-the-time-being of the IANA function (i.e. ICANN) is intended to have power (within ICANN’s mission and policies but without external oversight such as is currently exercised by the United States) to create, modify, and remove global and country-code top-level domains (gTLDs and ccTLDs).

As an entirely private sector corporation, it is hard to see where ICANN’s legal authority is intended to sit, post-transition. The power  to compel another individual or corporation to regulatory compliance has to be founded either in contract, alternatively in statutory or prerogative power.

Further, as any other non-profit corporation, ICANN is free to enter into any contracts that it wishes, it remains hard to see whence (in the absence of some form of a deed of gift by the United States under existing statutory powers of the US Federal government) ICANN could henceforth derive a legal authority over the root zone database, which, although there are some questions about its very nature, has been previously claimed belongs to the United States, and without whose affirmative sanction, permissions, additions, modification and removal of entries may not currently be made.

In the absence of the needed clarity on the matters set out above, I cannot and do not support the Proposal as is.

Accordingly it is submitted that no changes to the status quo should be made unless and until the abovementioned deficiency has been rectified.

New job for Jothan

As reported on Domain Incite industry veteran Jothan Frakes has a new job — CEO of troubled ICANN registrar Moniker.

Frakes’s presence will instantly boost Moniker’s reputational capital — his knowledge, experience and affability can only be an asset to the company.

And his resemblance to his starfaring namesake can’t hurt either.

Jothan Frakes                                                             Jonathan Frakes