home Domains, gTLD's, ICANN, Internet Exclusive interview: ICANN GAC Chair Change

Exclusive interview: ICANN GAC Chair Change

In October 2014, the Chair of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), Heather Dryden of Canada, stood down after four years at the helm.  She and incoming ICANN GAC Chair Thomas Schneider of Switzerland discuss the role, the past and the future, and governments’ role within ICANN.

Thomas Schneider, incoming ICANN GAC Chair

What are you most looking forward to in your new role as Chair of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, and what are you least looking forward to?

Thomas Schneider: I am very much looking forward to contributing to creating a constructive atmosphere of mutual respect and recognition and of a better understanding of each other’s circumstances, needs and roles – within the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and between the GAC and the other constituencies of ICANN – and with the rest of the “Internet community”.

15659402181_02e622b117_kIn my view, such an attitude and atmosphere is the basis for finding innovative and inclusive solutions to the challenges that the institution ICANN is currently facing.

A key part of this is a discussion – within the ICANN GAC and between all constituencies – about the respective roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders, in particular governments. A mutual understanding and acceptance of these roles will be key in moving the ICANN model forward. Transparency and accountability – to the ICANN community as well as to the “outside world” is also key in this regard.

Actually, there is not really anything that I am not looking forward to.

ICANN’s Chair recently said that he did not see the connectivity between ICANN and human rights.  What is the connection?  And how can the ICANN GAC help in this area?

ICANN’s activities and decisions clearly have an impact on human rights such as the rights to freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and the right to private life.

It is true that ICANN as a private corporation under US law does not have direct obligations for respecting human rights, as the responsibility and the positive obligations to protect their citizens’ fundamental rights lies with governments.

“ICANN’s activities and decisions clearly have an impact on human rights”

But this does not mean that ICANN has no responsibilities in this regard. ICANN has the responsibility to make sure that its procedures and decisions are in conformity with human rights and with international (and to the extent possible also with national) law in this regard.

It is clear that ICANN’s core expertise is not human rights but the management of the DNS, hence ICANN should cooperate with institutions that are experts in this field and take their advice into account.

The ICANN GAC also has a role in this. The GAC should ensure that the advice it is giving to ICANN respects fundamental rights, that it helps to inform ICANN about fundamental rights, and supports it in being compliant with respective international (and national) laws. But there should also be external checks and balances to make sure that GAC advice respects human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Thomas, you won an election for the position of Chair of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.  Is this the first time an election has had to be held?  Does it imply deep divisions within the ICANN GAC, and how will you work to rebuild unity?

Yes, this is the first time that there was more than one candidate for the posts of the chair and also the three vice chairs. I do not see this as something negative, as it is basically a positive thing to have a choice. Now the choice has been made and we need to look forward to work on a consensus basis and try to take all views present in the ICANN GAC into account when trying to find consensus positions.

“I do not see myself as the chair of those who voted for me, but as the chair of all GAC members whether they voted for me or not.”

I do not see myself as the chair of those who voted for me, but as the chair of all members of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee as equals – whether they voted for me or for the other candidate.

Are you confident that ICANN is now mature enough to do without the backstop role of the United States Government, and how should the role of governments within ICANN be evolving?

Whether ICANN is mature enough or not to do without the stewardship of the United States Government will be a decision that the whole ICANN community will need to take on a consensus basis.

In my view, this will depend to a large extent on whether the transparency and accountability framework of ICANN is considered sufficiently developed or not and whether the safeguards to protect ICANN from capture by special interests are considered strong enough.

Schneider: IANA transition will depend on “whether safeguards to protect ICANN from capture by special interests are considered strong enough”

The decision of the United States Government and ICANN to combine the deliberations on the IANA stewardship transition with some reflections on how to improve and guarantee transparency, accountability and good governance is a very wise one, as this will be have a critical impact on the community’s decision to what extent ICANN is mature enough and can be trusted that it will work in the global public interest.

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