NCUC awarded its first travel grant to NCUC member Benjamin Akinmoyeje to participate in the ICANN 52 meeting in Singapore, on February 8-12 2015.
Ben Akinmoyeje is an ICTD & IT Manager working with Management Sciences for Health in Abuja, Nigeria where he operates the MSH IdeaLab, a platform for Internet Governance for Development. The grants are designed to support members’ participation to ICANN meetings. Here you can read about his experience, and discover the ‘behind the scenes’ of an ICANN meeting.
Inside an ICANN meeting: My experience
By Benjamin Akinmoyeje
I first participated in the ICANN 47 meeting in Durban, after attending the first African Summer School on Internet Governance, in which NCUC organized a session. NCUC welcomed me into ICANN ever since I joined as a member.
From a distance, an ICANN meeting might appear to be an overly complex machine, whose inner working is intimidating and difficult to penetrate. In February 2015, I had the chance to attend my second ICANN meeting thanks to a NCUC travel grant. My experience was revealing as I progressed in my exploration of the issues at stake, and I have learnt a lot especially from cross-community debate. This opportunity has enriched my understanding of the main tasks and challenges of the organization, and enhanced my engagement. Here I summarize five amongst the several events I attended in Singapore, namely the opening ceremony, that allowed me to take the pulse of the organization; ‘All Things WHOIS’ on directory services; the NCUC Constituency Day; the cross-community session on ICANN’s corporate social responsibility and human rights, and a session on internet governance beyond ICANN.
ICANN 52 officially kicked off on February 9, with the usual opening ceremony, rich in inspirational speeches and exciting encounters. In his introductory remarks, Steve Crocker, Chair of the Board of ICANN since 2011, addressed the challenges ahead of the organization, referring, among others, to the Internet of things, when a myriad of new devices will require dedicated addresses and names. Crocker also announced that ICANN gatherings would follow a new schedule, starting from ICANN 53 in Buenos Aires. Instead of three regular-sized yearly meetings, the new arrangement foresees a second meeting smaller in size, which will allow ICANN to gather in locations where infrastructure is unsuitable to extra-large gatherings. This meeting will focus on policy development by supporting organizations and advisory committees (the so-called SO/AC), and privilege cross-community interaction and outreach. Crocker then offered an update on the IANA stewardship transition process, touching upon the nitty-gritty of the ICANN accountability process. He also touched upon the issue of Internet security, acknowledging that cyber threats and security breaches are increasingly frequent, to the point that ICANN itself was victim of a phishing attack.
The second speaker, Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister of Communication and Information for Singapore, shed light on the country’s ‘Smart Nation Vision’, a plan to transform the country into ‘a place where technology plays a seamless role in enabling us to live sustainably, stay connected to one another, and opens up exciting possibilities and opportunities for all.’ He acknowledged the tremendous economic growth that the Internet has brought to Singapore and the surrounding region. However, he also recognized the challenges of ensuring the development of a sustainable cybersecurity ecosystem. To address these challenges, the government decided to set up the Cyber Security Agency, which will bring together the government’s cybersecurity capabilities and take a holistic approach to cybersecurity in partnership with industry players and experts.
One of the high points of the opening ceremony was the speech by Ira Magaziner, who served as Chief Internet policy advisor under President Clinton. Magaziner offered an insight into the historical antecedents to the formation of ICANN and the development of the multi-stakeholder model implemented today. He reiterated the importance of maintaining the commitment to an open, single, secured internet, outside the control of governments, and encouraged the community to work to make sure that the IANA transition keeps faith to the principles of openness and independence originally laid out by the United States.
ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé concluded the opening ceremony by asking the plenary ‘What are the important things for ICANN to do in 2015? What does “good” look like for you in 2015?’ He reminded attendees that the main job of the ICANN community is to strengthen confidence in ICANN as an institution able to fulfil its tasks and to ensure the trust of internet users. His speech also touched upon the ICANN Five Year Operational Plan; the commitment of the ICANN staff to the so-called Key Performance Indicators, the metrics and objectives identified in the aforementioned plan; the efforts to develop the learn.icann.org platform. Chehadé concluded by announcing that the ICANN 52 meeting would have been mostly preoccupied with the IANA stewardship transition and the question of accountability.
This session focused on the new WHOIS validation and verification process, and debated the operational aspects of the WHOIS database, in recognition of the implications of this database for privacy and freedom of expression. WHOIS, pronounced as the phrase ‘who is’, is a query and response protocol used to gather, store and manage information about registered users of an internet resource, such as a domain name. This information is currently freely accessible online.
In May 2014, ICANN issued a Request for Proposal for WHOIS Online Accuracy Reporting System with an objective to identify vendors to provide services, software or data to support ICANN’s development of the system, including verification and validation of WHOIS contact data, including postal address, email, telephone, and registrant identity. In this framework, ICANN gave mandate to the National Opinion Research Centre at the University of Chicago and other partners to carry out a pilot study. The pilot study, which began in August 2014, concerned 100,000 WHOIS records; the initial report was later published for public comment.
Three questions are particularly hot today: How can we ensure WHOIS accuracy? Should identity validation be carried out, and how? Is identity validation feasible? What do you validate against? The different stakeholders explained how the validation and verification is likely to impact on their activities, and expressed their concerns with the proposal currently on the table. For example, the registrars are concerned about the potential false positives, while law enforcement, for which the WHOIS validation/verification is important for attribution purposes, rang the alarm bell about the possibility that criminals register domains for the sole purpose of committing crimes. Civil society raised privacy concerns about the potential abuse of the large personal data available through WHOIS. Avri Doria for the Non-commercial Stakeholder Group (NCSG) expressed concerns with the quality of the policy process to date, and advised exercising caution in incorporating the recommendations of the Government Advisory Committee (GAC). All told, participants agreed that there is a need to work together to prevent criminals who register domain to carry out fraudulent activities, while protecting human rights and free speech on the Internet.
Constituency Day is the chance for a community to come together. It usually takes place on Tuesdays of each ICANN meetings. The distinct constituencies meet in parallel. They discuss issues of concern to them, update members about ongoing policy development, and advance the work of the group. Members can also join via remote participation.
The Singapore meeting, chaired by the NCUC Chair Bill Drake, was well attended by both veterans and newcomers, including ICANN fellows and remote participants. After the warm-up, with brief introductions by participants and the opportunity for first-time attendees to ask questions, Drake explained the relationship between NCSG, NCUC and the NonProfit Operational Concerns (NPOC).
I also had the opportunity to introduce myself and praise the new NCUC travel support initiative. There were also brief reports on the December 2014 elections of the new NCUC Executive Committee, and from the inter-sessional meeting of the Non Contracted Party House in mid-January in Washington, DC. The chair suggested that NCUC members might consider writing an ebook one day, showcasing core NCUC issues and perspective, which could facilitate the engagement of newcomers. Most participants felt this was a good idea.
George Sadowsky, a member of ICANN Board, was invited to the meeting, and encouraged members to increase NCUC visibility at ICANN. The group also discussed the members’ engagement. Walid Al-Saqaf, newly appointed coordinator of the Membership Affairs Team, presented the membership engagement survey to be launched in March, and requested feedback from members.
One of the high points of the meeting was the visit of Larry Strickling, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the US Department of Commerce, and Fiona Alexander, the Head of the International Affairs Department at the NTIA. Strickling offered an update of the IANA stewardship Ttransition and accountability processes. He explained to NCUC members that it will ultimately be the ICANN community to decide the outcome of the IANA stewardship transition; a lot will depend on the quality of proposals, including issues such as the transition period and final implementation. He also expressed support for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and its desire to see its mandate extended. He expressed his confidence in the community to demonstrate the power of the multi-stakeholder model, and ask the community to work as hard as possible to identify the best proposal and reach out to governments convincing them of the need to support the process.
We then discussed the meaning of the term ‘public interest’ in ICANN. Participating were Nora Abusitta, ICANN Vice-President for Public Responsibility Programs, and Megan Richards, Principal Adviser of the Director General at DG CONNECT, European Commission. The group had a very dynamic and lively debate about whether the term ‘public interest’ is useful and can be defined and acted upon in the ICANN context. Drake noted that defining the term is currently listed as a key priority for ICANN’s five-year strategic plan.
At the London meeting, NCUC has kicked off a discussion about establishing human rights standards in ICANN. Since then, there has been a cross-community effort to explore the issue. This session was moderated by Niels Ten Oeven of Article 19 and Lee Hibbert of the Council of Europe, and focused on ICANN’s corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Article 4 of ICANN’s Articles of Incorporation, in fact, states that ICANN operates in respect of international law. After a short introduction by expert (and NCUC member!) Monika Zalnieriute, author of the Council of Europe’s report ‘ICANN’s procedures and policies in the light of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic values’, the conversation involved different stakeholders. For example, a representative from At Large Advisory Committee raised the issue of human rights in relation to privacy as well as ICANN‘s desire to have strong WHOIS records. It was agreed that some of ICANN’s activities raise human rights concerns, even if upholding human rights is not specifically listed in ICANN’s mandate. Attendees expressed support for a cross-community effort to advance the debate on ICANN’s corporate social responsibility.
This session was organized by the Cross Community Working Group on Internet Governance and focused on Internet Governance beyond ICANN’s remit as well as ICANN’s role in the broader Internet Governance space. Amongst the participants where representatives from Internet Society (ISOC), the NetMundial Initiative (NMI, following from the meeting with the same name), the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br), and NCUC. Processes to be discussed included the NetMundial Initiative, the WSIS +10 Review coming up in December 2015, the IGF and the renewal of its mandate, and the UNESCO meeting in Paris in March 2015. The session was chaired by the NCUC Chair Bill Drake.
NCUC member Wolfgang Kleinwachter stated that the previous IG models have not provided the needed solutions to address Internet Governance issues, unlike the NetMundial meeting in Sao Paolo (April 2014), which addressed a variety of issues with the participation of multiple stakeholders. The NMI, which builds on the Brazilian meeting, is a step forward in the implementation of multistakeholder governance. CGI.br, which organized the event and now supports the initiative, emphasized that the NMI is a platform in construction and not a forum; it does not replace existing IG mechanisms but aims at providing solutions conduct research on internet governance issues. NMI is supported by ICANN and CGI.br, and not solely by Western countries as feared in some quarters of the community. NMI is a place to ‘trap possible good ideas’ and provide practical steps to be taken on issues identified within the IGF. The NMI is also seen as a clearing house and resource-sharing platform, and should not be seen as a competitive arrangement to existing institutions. It is a platform where different stakeholders can work and the community can decide on how to use the compass that the NetMundial outcome document has provided. The NMI Coordination Council needs the community to give feedback to help develop robust Terms of Reference for the initiative. A questionnaire was launched and community members were encouraged to fill it in, in view of helping to advance the NMI.
The session also addressed the WSIS+10 process, the renewal of the mandate for the IGF, and the possibility that the IANA transition process experiences some delays in the implementation. Will the WSIS+10 review focuses on the real core issue, namely whether the WSIS is relevant in the post 2015 phase? If so, how should it look like? Would it allow for diverse voices? How do you make the WSIS process participatory for all? There was an interesting discussion comparing the outcomes of the multilateral processes of UN bodies and approaches of the WSIS and the multi-stakeholder approach by the ICANN community.
NCUC member Walid Al-Saqaf shared information about the UNESCO conference in Paris (3-5 March 2015), which builds on a comprehensive study of the Internet Universality based on the four principles of human rights, openness of technology, accessibility to all, and multi-stakeholder engagement. Attendees were encouraged to participate in the process in order to help various governments to engage in UNESCO and in internet governance processes more in general, especially as some of ICANN activities directly affect access to knowledge, information sharing and content management—issues which all fall within the scope of UNESCO.
All in all, attending ICANN 52 was a highly educating experience with numerous opportunities to meet experts in the internet governance ecosystem. NCUC is certainly THE platform for an enthusiast of internet governance to understand and participate productively in ICANN!