This blog post, co-authored by Grace Githaiga (EC representative for Africa) and Stefania Milan (EC representative for Europe), summarizes the main points of the January 14, 2015 meeting of NCUC representatives with Washington-based civil society, academics and think tanks concerned with internet governance.
On January 14, 2015, members of the Non Commercial Stakeholder Constituency (NCUC) met with DC-based representatives from civil society organizations and think thanks as well as academics to discuss current Internet governance issues, and explore how to team up to reinforce each other’s efforts. The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) hosted the get-together, attended in person by over two dozen people (see the list of participants) and an equal number participating remotely. It was the first time the NCUC organized a meeting of this kind, where an international group of people working within ICANN crossed paths with a DC-based crowd engaged with high-level public interest advocacy. As a newly elected EC member observed, it was a particularly productive and inspiring encounter, useful to get acquainted with the workings of the U.S. Congress with respect to the IANA stewardship transition and beyond.
Issues on the table included the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions’ stewardship transition (currently held by the USA National Telecommunications and Information Administration, NTIA); accountability mechanisms for ICANN and internet governance in the context of globalization; human rights in ICANN’s operations; privacy within ICANN and the registries; access to knowledge and intellectual property; freedom of expression and development, and ICANN’s participation in the NETmundial Initiative (NMI) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The gathering followed the intersessional meeting of the Non Contracted Parties House, one of the two groupings (‘houses’) of the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), in Washington, DC, on January 12-13. This blog post offers an overview of the January 14th NCUC short presentations; part of the discussion that followed took place under Chatham House rules and the recordings were destroyed.
IANA functions’ stewardship transition. The NTIA had originally proposed to give up its oversight over the IANA functions in September 2015, when the current contract with ICANN will expire. NTIA will transition the oversight of the IANA functions provided the proposal has board community support, and abides to four principles outlined in the March 2014 communiqué (support the multistakeholder model; maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the DNS; meet the needs users; maintain the openness of the Internet). In June 2014, ICANN has set up the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) comprised of 30 individuals representing 13 communities (including NCUC’s Milton Mueller, and several other NCUC members as observers), tasked with developing a proposal to transition stewardship of the IANA functions to the global multistakeholder community. The IANA stewardship transition concerns a) the administrative role, which entails ensuring that any change follows the procedure; b) the actual contractor role for the IANA functions; and c) the so-called stewardship role, which appeals to the global multistakeholder community. Various proposals are currently being developed independently by different communities, including the names, the protocols and the numbers community. There is a broad diversity of opinions on, e.g., accountability mechanisms for contractors, and the stewardship function more in general. However, the NTIA might decide to extend the September 2015 deadline.
Human rights and Names and Numbers. NCUC is working with other actors (including the Council of Europe) to foster a community-wide debate on human rights within ICANN. Two meetings took place at ICANN50 (London) and ICANN 51 (Los Angeles), and one is planned for the forthcoming ICANN 51 in Singapore, in view of creating a cross-community working group on the issue. Within the human rights debate, privacy is a hot issue for NCUC, in particular in the context of the Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services (EWG). Once again, there is a variety of opinions on the amount of information that should be made available through the WHOIS repository (it gathers the information that users provide when registering a domain name), on who should be entitled to access it, and how. NCUC proposed to give domain names users a chance to determine what information should be made available to the broader community, and tabled a proposal for anonymous credentials, where data would be variably accessed through a proxy.
Access to knowledge, intellectual property and freedom of expression is also of concern to NCUC members. In this respect, NCUC is striving to bring public interest concerns and the noncommercial vision into ICANN. For example, NCUC is trying to push back on the use of trademarks as names, and on the governments’ will to take control of all geographical names. NCUC believes that these uses represent infringements on freedom of expression.
Developing countries. NCUC has been pushing for the concerns of developing countries, which are underrepresented at ICANN, especially in the realm of registries and registrars. More generally, the number of registries and registrars is very low in Africa and Latin America in particular; also the new gTLD program saw very few applicants from developing countries. Since 2010, ICANN has encouraged a report on facilitating the engagement of developing countries, including measures on application fees and financial support. However, a lot remains to be done to support developing countries registries.
ICANN participation in the broad internet governance. ICANN is playing an active role in other Internet governance processes, such as the NetMundial Initiative and the Internet Governance Forum. ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé played an active role in both NetMundial (in April 2014 in Brazil) and in the launch of the NMI. NCUC participates in these efforts in various capacities, and supports civil society within them. NCUC also believes that, in recognition of the fact that the role of ICANN currently stretches well beyond its remit, the organization should give serious consideration to human rights concerns.
DC civil society delegates contributed valid suggestions to improve NCUC’s work. For example, NCUC needs to push for media attention on its issues and struggles, also in consideration of the lack of expertise on the topic that is readily available to mass media. This would be particularly useful in relation to US Congress calendar of IG-related debates. Furthermore, NCUC should partner up with groups working on human rights and the internet in view of the new round of the World Summit on the Information Society.