To be or not to be… accountable?

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Giovanni Seppia
External Relations Manager
EURid, registry for the .eu top-level domain

According to Internetlivestats.com there are over 3,2 billion Internet users. How many community representatives have been involved so far in the IANA Stewardship transition and ICANN Accountability processes which should be as multistakeholder as possible? Less than 2000? It might be an overestimated figure.

Fall 2015. For the “Icanners”, it will be perceived as the ‘accountability harvest’ season but will the grapes the community has cultivated with such care be considered good enough for the production of an exceptional vintage? Cold winter, damp spring, hot and dry summer and extended warm and sunny harvest: the perfect recipe for the production of a good wine. At this stage we can detect certain “weather” similarities with regards to the work carried out thus far to enhance ICANN accountability.

In an – extreme, if not too late – effort to reach out to a larger multistakeholder base, ICANN staff has started to market the second Cross Community Working Group draft that presented recommendations to enhance ICANN’s accountability for a post-IANA-transition era. Therefore, slides, infographics and a narrative version of the monumental CCWG paper (over 140 pages that requires extreme determination to be read) have been made available. However, no matter how the CCWG work and recommendations are illustrated to a potentially wider audience; they seem cursed to remain in what can only be described as a fuzzy galaxy. So far, our hats namely go off to the brave CCWG members who survived such a tough job.

But what are the key points of the CCWG paper? Certainly, the proposal or introducing the so-called “Fundamental Bylaws”, the review of the ICANN mission statement and core values, the Community Mechanism as Sole Member (CMSM to which the ICANN Board has already responded with the Multistakeholder Enforcement Mechanism, the MEM, and highlighted that decisions should be made by the broader multistakeholder model instead of only by the SO and ACs that are part of the CMSM), the powers of the CMSM against the ICANN budget and ICANN Board, the need to further work on increasing ICANN staff accountability, amongst others.

Very predictably the ICANN Board has not reacted well to the second CCWG draft. And very candidly, they stressed that their reaction is part of their wish to contribute to refine the draft as any other stakeholder should do. Not surprisingly, a recent article published in The Guardian compared them to “turkeys being asked to vote for Christmas”.

Many ICANN community members maintain a vivid memory of certain episodes that are far from being in the ICANN Board’s favor. We should – all – learn from history.

So what’s next before drowning in the new ocean of acronyms (if you read the second draft of the CCWG and the Board’s first reaction, you can easily count over 20 passages that make your accountability a walk in the jungle)? The US government extended the target date. All those involved – including ICANN staff – breathed a sigh of relief. However, they should not have. The US government’s generous action was a message that the acclaimed multistakeholder model is not the easiest democratic environment to govern and therefore, its responsiveness and efficiency have plenty of room to be strengthened.

During the coming weekend, the survivors of the CCWG will meet the ICANN Board in Los Angeles, a meeting to discuss the second draft and go through the Board’s responses and concerns. Meanwhile, hordes of lawyers on both sides are scrutinizing the texts, line-by-line. Would a compromise be desirable? Personally, I would warmly recommend it. Unfortunately, I still fail to see a good negotiator that can structure and clear any accountability enhancement so that the ICANN community could start focusing once again on the future of its core business, leading ICANN to a new golden age.