Critics warn new ICANN agreement will hurt Internet domains

A new agreement between Internet regulator ICANN and the US government will see the rest of the world have more control over the Internet domain name system, but critics said it will not provide enough accountability.

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A new agreement between Internet regulator ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) and the US government will see the rest of the world have more control over the Internet domain name system, but critics said it will not provide enough accountability.

The agreement, announced Wednesday, seemed to enjoy widespread support, but some critics questioned how new review teams overseeing ICANN would be independent and whether the new agreement represented average Internet users. ICANN and the US Department of Commerce (DOC) announced the new agreement on the day an 11-year series of agreements expired. Under those agreements, the US government provided primary oversight of ICANN.

One of the main changes in the new agreement, called an Affirmation of Commitments, is the creation of new review panels, which would check ICANN's compliance with the agreement every three years. Volunteers would serve on those review teams, as would independent experts and representatives of the ICANN board of directors and the DOC.

The problem is that ICANN's chairman or CEO and the chairman of ICANN's Governmental Affairs Committee (GAC), selected by all the nations involved with ICANN, would have the final say on the makeup of those review teams, said Brenden Kuerbis, operations director the Internet Governance Project, a group of academics focusing on Internet governance issues.

"The review panels are not external to ICANN," Kuerbis said this week at an ICANN forum hosted by the Congressional Internet Caucus. "They're selected by the very people responsible for what ICANN does. They're likely to produce the politics that already exist within ICANN."

ICANN has a long history of disagreement among stakeholder groups and calls by other nations for the US to give up its oversight role.

ICANN's major problem isn't a lack of oversight, it's a lack of clearly defined rules for the organisation and standards to measure performance, Kuerbis added. "If these rules don't exist - and they still don't - the review panels ... can just become another layer of politics and second-guessing, superimposed on what is already a messy and pretty diffuse process," he said.

However, ICANN Vice President Paul Levins disagreed that the review teams will be made up of ICANN allies. There will be public comment on membership of the review teams, and ICANN's board and CEO don't control GAC, he said. "It's going to be extremely hard [for ICANN] to game the process," he said.

Another criticism of the new agreement is that it was negotiated between ICANN and DOC in secret, even as the agreement calls on ICANN to be accountable and transparent to the public and to use a bottom-up decision-making process.

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