23 May 2014

ICANN Accountability, IANA Transition, Karl Auerbach Letter

By now, most people in the domain name industry are aware of the NTIA announcement and the ongoing process convened by ICANN in regard to IANA functions, as well as ICANN's own process for enhancing its own accountability. The most important document published thus far in regard to either ICANN accountability or IANA transition is a letter written by Karl Auerbach to the US Congress that covers both issues. Karl is a former member of the ICANN Board of Directors, an internet technologist who has written internet standards that have been adopted by the IETF, has been a principal in several internet start-ups, is a recipient of the Norbert Wiener Award for Social and Professional Responsibility, and has been named a fellow of law and technology at Cal Tech and Loyola Marymount. He is also a member of the California Bar and its Intellectual Property section.

Those interested in either ICANN or IANA should read his entire letter (it is a "must read") which can be found here.

Excerpts from Karl Auerbach's letter (emphasis added):

"IANA is essentially a clerical job that usually involves no significant amount of discretion. (And in those rare cases where technical discretion is needed the various technical standards organizations, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force – the IETF – provide specific guidance and designate experts to be consulted.) There is no particular reason why ICANN and IANA are bundled into the same organization. IANA could be handled by any competent clerical provider – such as an established accounting firm. Rather than being a parent organization to IANA, ICANN could just as well be a client for IANA services. Because ICANN is essentially a body that regulates economic and business matters – and is thus subject to storms of debate from financially interested groups – it would be better for IANA to be held separate from ICANN and allowed to do its clerical job in peace and avoid being dragged into matters in which it has no interest and no role."

"ICANN does vanishingly little with regard to the technical stability of the internet and, instead, uses its de facto monopoly position to do a land office business selling rights to internet territory. ICANN does not “assure the technical stability of the internet”. Rather, ICANN dispenses commercial rights and privileges. In exchange for its largess ICANN obtains monopoly rents, significantly restricts legitimate and innovative business practices, and imposes expansive trademark protection well beyond what is required by any law of any nation. ICANN is a private regulatory body that promotes its particular view of social engineering, internet business practices, trademark protection, and preservation of incumbent interests."

"NTIA's role in ICANN has largely been to shield ICANN from questions, most particularly questions that would normally arise about a private body that restrains trade and innovation. One must ask whether that behavior constitutes oversight at all. Or has an absence of oversight by NTIA allowed ICANN to become a permissive playground for financially interested entities to promote private agendas?"

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