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Compliance Overhaul a NON-Start

Garth Bruen

Happy New Year, you're fired. While most of us were getting ready celebrate respective holidays, ICANN was quietly closing a critical office and sending all the staff out to look for new jobs. When asked to confirm this, ICANN's delayed response was pure Orwellian Doublethink. The office was closed because ICANN is "assessing how to effectively grow ICANN resources around the globe." How does one grow global resources while shutting down the Asia-Pacific office right before the Asia-Pacific meeting? What really irks is that in this day and age ICANN still believes it can do these things in secret and no one will notice.

The Sydney office was not some insignificant satellite. The U.S has more than one ICANN office, Europe has one in Belgium. Sydney served the other side of globe which has the fastest growing Internet (and human) population. There are over 100 ICANN Registrars in Asia-Pacific which now have no oversight, and this actually leads to a clue. There was a warning that the Sydney office might suddenly be closed. During a Compliance session in Prague there were specific requests to activate the Sydney office to visit non-compliant registrars in the region. These requests were rejected out of hand as if the Sydney office had only ephemeral existence and was not to be used in actual enforcement. What is most interesting about this session is that it was members of the registrar constituency requesting investigation. Not only was their request ignored but the office expected to spearhead the investigation was cleared out.

Interestingly, this is not the first (nor even the second nor third) time this has happened. It becomes very difficult for members of the community to establish good working relationships with people who may disappear at any moment (perhaps that is the point). Just before the Toronto meeting I had a completely routine call scheduled with an ICANN staff member. An hour before our teleconference the staffer canceled because "I have just been terminated." Two years ago the previous head of compliance was erased from ICANN after making great strides and pledges, much to the disappointment of several constituencies. There are more, including other staffers who have been "reassigned" or "can no longer discuss certain issues." In my experience the general quality of ICANN staff is excellent, but that excellence keeps getting shuffled off, especially if they get too close to the common folk. The message to staff should be clear: your jobs are a political plaything.

But, this situation is about Compliance, which we have been told over and over again is an important priority. Yet, the former chair of the WHOIS Review Team does not seem to think community efforts are being taken seriously. During the WIRT Emily Taylor observed: "we found it surprisingly difficult to get basic information from ICANN about its compliance function" and "budget versus actual spend on compliance activities were shrouded in mystery."

What is more, ICANN is completely unable to clarify whether or not the contract in question is even enforceable. There is a major pitfall in the current language which may make it moot and nullify any real community participation. Staff has been asked repeatedly about this and given slightly different and contradictory answers each time. A recent Compliance newsletter stated that a "registrar should" but there is no "should" in the contract. When asked specifically where this authority came from Compliance called the contract a "guide." Bottom line, ICANN cannot clearly define their authority and is dancing around the issue apparently because there is no intent to take any real action as seen from the WIRT response and the shuttering of the Sydney office. So what we have is vanishing staff and obfuscated policy statements. Orwellian indeed. This is the new ICANN (or is it the old ICANN?). Earned trust is being eroded.

By Garth Bruen, Internet Fraud Analyst and Policy Developer. More blog posts from Garth Bruen can also be read here.

Related topics: ICANN, Internet Governance

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Sydney is not ideal for ICANN's Asia Headquarters Thomas Barrett  –  Jan 30, 2013 3:08 PM PST

The Sydney office was created for the convenience of a former ICANN CEO.  It is not an ideal base for which to conduct compliance.

Sydney is less than appropriate as the ICANN Asia Headquarters for several other reasons:  geographic centrality, language skills, cultural issues.  Of the 100 Asia-based registrars you mention, only 16 are in Australia, with even fewer corporate parents and even fewer compliance-related problems.

The same story exists in terms of new gTLD's from Asia, with just a handful of the 300+ Asia-based gTLD's coming from Australia applicants.  China alone has over 70 applications.

My vote for more appropriate office locations would include:  China or India.

best regards


Neither. A regional hub such as singapore would be ideal Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jan 30, 2013 8:20 PM PST

If you have a remit that covers all of asiapac, it is probably the most ideal location

I agree the sydney office is a nonstarter and shouldn't ever have been started just to accomodate a single individual.

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