June 11, 2015

DotcomACT: Increase ICANN Accountability and Transparency

By Frank Cullen

A lot has been said and written about potentially disruptive impacts resulting from the impending transition of the contract between the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and with good reason.

Anyone who is interested in a future that includes a safe, secure and accessible Internet needs to understand the importance of getting this transition right. Once the contract is terminated and ICANN no longer has a contractual obligation to NTIA, there will not be another chance to resolve serious policy issues that could impact Internet users, not only in the U.S. but around the globe.

Any transition plan must ensure continued efficient management of critical Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions essential for the global coordination of Internet Protocol addresses allowing Internet users to connect via the “world-wide-web.” ICANN has done a good job managing the IANA functions, and deserves credit for working with a diverse group of Internet stakeholders to ensure that the transition does not fundamentally change the way the Internet is managed or governed.

Various stakeholders, including the U.S. Congress, have expressed concerns that the transition may open the door for increased government control of the Internet by oppressive regimes and greater restrictions on access to the Internet and free speech. However, a diverse group of global stakeholders, encompassing business, civil society, academics, and public bodies, have been hard at work developing a plan to ensure that such a worrying scenario does not happen.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives also took a positive step in the right direction by passing out of the Energy & Commerce Committee legislation (DOTCOM.ACT) that sets forth a number of conditions that must be met prior to the transition going forward. Central to the legislation is a report to Congress that will allow for a 30-day congressional review period, along with a provision demanding increased accountability for ICANN, as conditions for congressional approval.

Increased ICANN accountability and transparency are critically important, along with effective enforcement mechanisms, to ensure ICANN meets the conditions set forth by the accountability plan developed by the multi-stakeholder community.

However, in response to recent media reports on the need for increased ICANN accountability and proposed enforcement mechanisms, ICANN President & CEO Fadi Chehade was quoted as saying ICANN will not become a “copyright cop.” This statement misses the mark – in truth, no one is asking for ICANN to play cop or have new enforcement powers – despite the ever increasing volume of online criminal activities. The issue is simply ICANN accountability and the need for ICANN to fulfill its contractual obligations. Registrars should not be permitted to continuously host sites that knowingly create risks for other Internet users, whether through the distribution of malware or the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

The pillars that support the multi-stakeholder model are built on a foundation of transparency, best practices and adherence to contractual obligations. ICANN cannot capriciously pick and choose what parts of their contracts they want to enforce if they are going to retain the trust of the multi-stakeholder community and governments.

This is a pivotal moment in the evolution of the Internet and we must get it right – the very future of the Internet depends on it.

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