30 October 2014

Cybercrime, Rogue Registrars: Is ICANN Unfit For Internet Governance?

Documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show that thousands of complaints about suspicious online pharmacies and other websites in 2012 weren’t reviewed for months because ICANN stopped maintaining one of its computer systems.

Law-enforcement officials told ICANN that the website posed an immediate health risk. Less than 15 minutes later, ICANN responded in an email that the organization had “reviewed and closed your complaint.”

Axelle Lemaire, France’s secretary of state for digital affairs, says the “lack of transparency” at ICANN “is very worrying. When it comes to selling illegal drugs online, it’s the health of world-wide citizens at stake.”

“I don’t know how contractually we could do something different than we are doing,” says Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s Global Domains Division... Mr. Atallah says employees are “doing a very good job.” ICANN’s overall budget is $101 million for the current fiscal year.

Former Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz says ICANN needs continued oversight, partly because of its small compliance staff. Just 22 of the agency’s 300 employees are devoted to policing websites. An independent ICANN could be “dangerous for stakeholders, and more importantly, consumers,” says Mr. Leibowitz.

ExpVC.com Contributing Editor's Opinion:

Here's one truism ICANN has yet to grasp: good governance is hard, but necessary. The Internet's days as a free-wheeling, unregulated marketplace are soon coming to an end. What the end result will look like is yet unknown, but the world re-discovered in 2008 that markets are not self-regulating, and there is a need, and place, for good, effective governance. This applies to the Internet as in all other sectors of public life. Of course, ICANN, a California corporation with no membership nor stockholders, and only a self-interested, self-selected Board of Directors which apparently owes a fiduciary duty only to the corporation itself, not employees nor stakeholders, is anxious to gain independence from all government oversight, without taking on any of the burdens (and costs) inherent in exercising such global authority and responsibilities. Whatever the outcomes of the IANA transition and ICANN enhancing accountability processes, if effective and responsible governance of the DNS and internet root zone, on a global level, from criminal activity is not included (to take just one example), it will not be long before governments throughout the world do whatever is necessary to wrest control of the DNS and internet, globally, or within their respective borders, in order to protect their own populations and public interest from ICANN's "hands-off, just pay me the money" approach to internet governance.

For a view of what real governance within the sphere that ICANN operates, looks like, see this search of US Federal Trade Commission actions. ICANN's source of authority, shield of immunity, and excuse not to govern, has heretofore been its contractual privity with the US government. Once that is gone, from what sovereign source of authority does ICANN have any legitimate claim to exercise authority over the global internet community, domain name registrants, registrars, registries, the DNS, and the internet root zone? No one has really given a good answer to that yet, but it will be a fertile area for litigation worldwide and other international disputes if left unanswered.

And apparently, neither ICANN's President of Global Domains Division (see quote above of Akram Attalah) nor anyone else at ICANN has a clue as to how ICANN, contractually, could do anything differently than it has been doing (or not doing). Perhaps, at a minimum, Mr. Atallah should consult with competent counsel who have FTC, or similar governance and regulatory experience, much of which is based solely on contractual terms.

On the other hand, if you are that clueless, perhaps you are unfit for internet governance.

Submitted by: Contributing Editor, John Poole, Domain Mondo

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