Choosing the Right Path to a Permanent Accountability Framework for ICANN

by on August 26, 2009 · 10 comments

By Michael Palage & Berin Szoka, The Progress & Freedom Foundation

Over the next month, the ICANN Board will consider its options for ensuring that some framework is in place to ensure ICANN’s accountability to the global Internet community after the approaching expiration of its Memorandum of Understanding and Joint Project Agreement (MOU/JPA) with the U.S. Department of Commerce. We analyze these options in our new paper, “Choosing the Right Path to a Permanent Accountability Framework for ICANN.”

We urge the ICANN Board to allow the time necessary for the development of a permanent accountability framework in consultation with the global Internet community, as required by ICANN’s Bylaws.  The authors caution the ICANN Board against rubber-stamping a recent proposal to essentially make the MoU/JPA a permanent instrument as inadequate to ensure ICANN’s long-term accountability.  The alternative, simply ending ICANN’s relationship with the U.S. Government, would raise serious legal questions concerning ICANN’s ability to collect fees from registrars and registries and the transfer of property rights underlying the domain name system.

We conclude by calling on ICANN’s new CEO Rod Beckstrom to exercise the kind of leadership he advocated in his 2005 book, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, which explains the advantages of decentralized managerial “nervous systems” (“starfish”) over top-down hierarchies (“spiders”):

Instead of focusing on ‘spider’-esque permanent instruments with a single government, Beckstrom and the ICANN Board should focus on more ‘starfish’-like solutions that both continue the USG’s stewardship role and involve more governments that want to participate in the unique private-public partnership known as ICANN—without compromising ICANN’s guiding principles and commitment to private sector leadership. Only this outcome will ensure the long-term viability of ICANN as a global trustee of the Internet’s unique identifiers.

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