ICANN 55: Evolution of ICANN and the world of Internet Governance

 

By Renata Aquino Ribeiro

Attending ICANN5 was being a part of a historical moment of change in Internet governance. Also, in a panoramic view of some of the themes brought up in a few sessions, it meant too being faced with old dilemmas the Internet governance debate venues seem to have a difficulty in grasping. The main one, in my opinion, is diversity in Internet governance debates.

From day 5th Mar., the “GNSO Standing Committee on Improvements Implementation (SCI)” had the first meeting in the morning. As its official definition [1] “the SCI is responsible for reviewing and assessing the effective functioning of the GNSO Procedures and Working Group guidelines”. I am grateful, as of 16th Mar., to have been appointed as alternate representative for this group for the NCUC, being Amr Elsadr primary representative [2]. This committee has extremely experienced ICANN members and it has 50/50 representation of female participation in the stakeholders representatives group in it. Although this data is inspiring, something else must happen. One of the main themes of the meeting was the lack of participation in selection processes. To me, the encouragement to participate goes far deeper than selection processes inner workings, however. It comes from idea of representativeness in the ICANN community itself.

During the “GNSO Working Sessions”, a comprehensive review of working groups and their current challenges and status in leadership and skill recognition also presented intensive work to build up on. The GNSO-RDS-PDP-WG, of which I am an observer, for instance, is one who has already established leadership and group subdivisions. This group aims [3] to draft the Next-Generation gTLD Registration Services which will replace WHOIS. In the 3 subdivisions the group has (privacy, data and purpose) the groups already welcome volunteers to contribute to these themes. A simple twitter search on ICANN and WHOIS [4] can sum up what this WG has to deal with. Even though civil society is the most interested in privacy issues, matters such as the work of this WG still seem arid to many and need more participation.

On 7th Mar, the first welcoming experience to diversity came from the “DNS Women`s Breakfast”. There I met fellow researchers and professors in technology areas in Morocco and other countries and we could network and exchange views on areas to participate in ICANN. This was right before the new official CEO welcome session and the “Joint ccNSO/GNSO Council Meeting”. In those two moments again the call for participating in the ICANN community came through resounding and the symbolism of it all came through as the new Accountability report was getting closer to vote by the GNSO.

“NCSG-ICANN and Human Rights” was a session in the same day. Followed by “Exploring the Public Interest within ICANN`s remit”. Both sessions deal with concepts which are deemed to have many different sources and references, and a closer look at these processes is very important to ensure grey areas of action can have refined lines of action. The Human Rights angle has been investigated by the ccwg-human-rights, of which I am participant also. The group was already subdivided and now looks forward to the work with work stream 2 of the accountability report. Issues such as privacy bring relevant aspects to gender diversity in Internet governance scenario.

As for the Public Interest theme, much discussion has happened in this theme and during the session a debate with the audience regarding the origin of the term in ICANN was very interesting. A GAC representative from Peru inquired about the elements of definition of the “public interest” and how to define it against other expressions, for instance “the common good”. An ICANN Legal representative brought the information of the difference between “public interest” and “private interest”. As by California law, ICANN is a non-profit so should act on the public interest rather than private. In a multistakeholder model, however, the balances of private interests coming into play should be another addition to this tension. Seeking diversity, again, means bringing the interests of a few groups and valuing them against a large majority.

The first public forum was important and always signals an important channel, as many who do not regularly get a voice in ICANN can speak here. Still, this channel could be more powerful. Assuring all voices get heard requires planning and it would be something interesting to see. The tribute to Fadi Chehade was another moment where those who felt represented by this CEO experienced a cathartic last opportunity to play a part for an imaginary last time. If this idea of representativeness could transcend the CEO`s character and become part of the next ICANN years it would be the best prospect.

The mostly devoted day to NCUC and NCSG was day 8th Mar. including also the “Joint Meeting of the ICANN Board and NCSG”. In these sessions, questions were asked to the board and the diversity issue could have come up again. The board and the constituencies were in dialogue in this meeting to provide diversity stats and to come up with solutions to increase it. Still, efforts in diversity require educational initiatives, drafting of community documents and funding for participation, which were subjects that were not thoroughly addressed in these occasions. Hopefully, however, the beginning of this talk paves the way to more discussions.

Day 9th Mar had “NCSG Privacy and Human Rights at ICANN”, which brought up again the theme related to the WHOIS WGs. Later at the “CCWG IG F2F Meeting”, a reference was made to the WSIS Forum in May in Geneva. The CCWG IG included a workshop in the program and will spark the debate on the panorama of Internet governance. The OECD Ministerial Meeting was also a point of the meeting with indication of the declaration comments process and the CCWG IG participation. On the WSIS Forum, as a participant, I`ve also presented the upcoming workshop “Engaging Regional Groups in Internet Governance” which was approved to happen in the event in the last day. The focus of the workshop is to enhance geographic diversity in internet governance debates, with a direct impact in giving access to low income regions to voice their own concerns about the internet`s future.

In the “GNSO Public Council Meeting”, the voting for the Accountability report took great part of the session, with councilors voicing out their opinions on recommendations. Again, lots of anticipation for what has to be done on work stream 2 and the intercession with the human rights debate. This session was a historic moment for the IANA transition and fundamental to understand the next steps. I couldn`t help thinking that many sectors of society could have had a larger representation and interaction in this debate.

The last day, 10 Mar, started with the “Internet Governance Public Session”. This session was a debate between representatives of the CCWG IG group and governments such as Morocco and Brazil. As there were many representatives in the table, time was a constraint and some parts of the debate, like research on Internet fragmentation [4] by William Drake, were left to be discussed in another opportunity. Again, geographic diversity comes into play in the dialogue between governments and civil society. Time and space for both can be arranged and should be, but can there be an agreement on what to build up on, is another matter. Governments should have a say in Internet governance debates but not only their voices are the one to be heard, and yet this session had most talk time given to the local government.

The last public forum was way more energetic than the first, with a huge queue of speakers. For the first time, also, there seemed to be a dialogue between board and public forum speaker when a very direct question came up about harassment policies. It is unlikely this will be the last time the board is faced with hard facts (such as personal testimony and demands of procedure), which require an immediate dialogue and response. Once more, ensuring proper representation of all voices goes beyond opening the mic at the public forum. An inscription process and others channels come to mind to enhance such an important space.

I also spoke at the public forum [5]. I tried to sum up all the issues I saw regarding diversity representation in ICANN. Multiple responses from the board came, I can sum them up in one line: “ICANN is a community and it is evolving”. Other Public Forum participants also joined in with views. The question remains: in a changing world, a major change in Internet’s future is it evolving fast enough?

A note on policy areas

As a final note, some thoughts on policy areas which could be of interest, based upon learning from the experience of being in an ICANN Meeting as NCUC. There is a mosaic of policy development processes relating to WHOIS and finding your way on it can be a bit daunting but it is an area that will originate several new areas to work in the forthcoming months so it is an interesting one to observe. The themes human right and public interest are also likely to present themselves in further complexity in the future so should be looked at closely. Main learning point: keep watching the new working groups on the ICANN website to access those working groups which may be of interest.

Renata Aquino Ribeiro

28.Mar.2016

[1] https://community.icann.org/display/gnsosci/Home

[2] http://lists.ncuc.org/pipermail/ncuc-discuss/2016-March/018383.html

[3] https://community.icann.org/display/gTLDRDS/Next-Generation+gTLD+Registration+Directory+Services+to+Replace+Whois

[4]  http://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-annual-meeting-2016/sessions/issue-briefing-internet-fragmentation

[5] https://pesquisaeducacao.wordpress.com/public-forum-ICANN5/

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