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3 Strategies for Keeping ICANN and IANA On-Mission and Out of Politics

Over the last year, the ICANN community has been raging on about two issues: the looming IANA transition away from the US government, and how to ensure the organization is accountable to all the Internet's stakeholders.

While the issues have run on separate tracks, they both boil down to one question: can ICANN be trusted to be a good steward of the Internet's future? The answer to this question will go a long way in deciding ICANN's future.

The importance of separating technical functions and politics

We must ensure that the IANA functions are not held hostage by interest groups. Allowing politics to seep into this process opens the door for all sorts of agendas to be imposed on the technical functionalities of the Internet — including agendas that favor censorship and repression.

Only by committing to the separation of architecture and politics can we shield the Domain Name System from being a proxy fight for other political games.

Strategies for keeping ICANN and IANA on-mission

1. Take a lesson from the Numbering community

The IANA functions connect the Domain Name System to the Numbering system — i.e. they help translate the website name you type to the IP address used on the network.

The Numbering community has a strong and successful track record of managing the coordination and operation of the Internet Protocol system. The reason the Numbering process is so well-run by its operators is because they stay within their technical mission and work cooperatively to ensure the global coordination.

2. Do not give governments a vote in ICANN

ICANN is not set up to be a global arbitrator of trade agreements or human rights principles. Governments shouldn't have a voting role in this technical body.

Governments currently hold an advisory role at ICANN. Advisory roles are not taken lightly; they have historically been a key part of ICANN by advising both the multi-stakeholder community and the ICANN Board on key policy decisions. Allowing a voting role for governments, however, would turn the multi-stakeholder process on its head.

The current process of using the United Nations definition of consensus for the Government Advisory Committee must stand: "a practice under which every effort is made to achieve unanimous agreement; but that if it could not be done, those dissenting from the general trend were prepared simply to make their position or reservations known and placed on the record."

Sticking to this rule allows for differing opinions to be heard on the record, but does not allow one government to have say over another government, which is a very important point in keeping the Internet free and unfettered of policy biases.

Granting governments voting power invites mission creep. And that mission creep will serve to undermine ICANN's integrity and the trust stakeholders place in it.

3. Be transparent vis-à-vis the multi-stakeholder community

In order for ICANN to fend off outside political agendas, it must make the community confident that they understand how the organization operates and makes decisions. If ICANN wants to push back against the international bodies that want to take on some of its current responsibilities, the most effective way to do that would be to show how the group stands by and implements the decisions that have been made by the multi-stakeholder process.

The ICANN staff should abide by all of the hard work done by the multi-stakeholder community in creating the new Top Level Domain guidelines and ensure compliance to the guidebook and the signed contracts. Contract enforcement and compliance should be a mandatory practice for participating in the Domain Name System. Showing a commitment to accountability by standing by their current contracts and commitments would help enhance ICANN's reputation as an organization that stands on a strong legal foundation and upholds its core mission to its community.

Over the next year, key decisions will define how ICANN operates for decades to come. Smart choices will position ICANN to be a trusted and effective steward of the Internet. Not-so-smart choices will relegate it to the history books.

By Shane Tews, Visiting Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

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Comments

Mission By Robert Charles  –  Jun 29, 2021 5:03 am PDT

I'm very pleased to learn such brilliant piece of article.  That mission creep will serve to undermine ICANN's integrity and the trust stakeholders place in it.

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