ICANN accountability has come into question more than any other issue in the transitional discussions that led to the NETMundial conference. Under President Clinton in 1998, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) entered into a contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to manage core functions of the Internet—including managing policy and technical features of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS).
On March 14, 2014, NTIA announced its intent not to renew its contract with ICANN. NTIA therefore required ICANN to meet with “global stakeholders” on an alternative to the current role of NTIA in the coordination of the DNS. It stated clearly also that it was not going to accept a governmental organization as an alternative, and while this transitional authority is being prepared we might just ponder on the very aspect that makes an independent ICANN a scary organization if there is no strong oversight.
These could be trivialized issues given the fact that majority of the stakeholders have looked at the core functional responsibilities of ICANN. ICANN President Fadi Chehade surprised Internet stakeholders with an announcement that ICANN would launch a community-driven process to strengthen its accountability, he added that IANA transition should be dependent on a workable accountability re-set, rather than just parallel processes.
In his recent blog,, Steve Crocker admits that a
“process on ICANN’s overall accountability is needed” saying “ Ever since the NTIA announced its intention to transition the stewardship of the IANA functions, the ICANN Community, our Board, and ICANN’s leadership all have been in agreement that a process on ICANN’s overall accountability is needed. This process should look at from an organizational perspective, whether and how ICANN’s broader accountability mechanisms should be strengthened to address the absence of its historical contractual relationship to the U.S. Government.”
ICANN has grappled with its accountability within its short history and so far all issues have yet to be properly diagnosed and cured. So instead of ICANN immunizing itself it should actually accept the need for indepth audit of its structures. With the transition debate and activity threatening to over shadow the new gTLD process which is ICANN’s current main stay its upto the community to constantly remind ICANN that past calls of accountability within ICANN and especially the board have yet to be impressive.
Internet policy analyst Steve DelBianco says in his CircleID Blog that any ICANN accountability mechanism ought to be able to handle obvious use cases. What if ICANN reneges on the Affirmation of Commitments, or becomes insolvent, or picks up and leaves the United States, frustrating civil process, or engages in censorship by removing domains from the root?
As ICANN juggles between managing the wanting new gTLD process and the pararell processes of Transition and Accountability boosting,
I “agree with Dr. Croker that Enhancing ICANN’s accountability is key to the success of the IANA functions stewardship transition process. We must be accountable to the global community beyond our role as the administrator of the IANA functions.”
However ICANN ought to move from talk and actually “take an inventory of its existing accountability mechanisms, such as the Affirmation of Commitments; examine if and how they should be strengthened, as well explore the needs for new mechanisms. Enhanced accountability will be very paramount in the absence of ICANN’s historical contractual relationship to the U.S. Government otherwise ICANN can forget being detached from NTIA and the USG.