Middle East DNS Forum Tunis 2016: Civil Society Participation and Policy Development within ICANN

By Ines Hfaiedh

The community based session moderated by NCUC Chair Rafik Dammak, shed light on Civil Society involvement at ICANN, how they contribute to the Policy Development Process (PDP), and why it is important to have a civil society voice at ICANN’s PDP.

The session featured:

  • Stephane Van Gelder, Current NomCom Chair, Former GNSO Chair and Executive Vice President @startingdot.
  • Aziz Hilali, the chair of AFRALO, and the vice-president of ISOC Morocco.
  • Sally Costerton, Senior Advisor to ICANN President and Vice President of Global Stakeholder Engagement.
  • Amr Alsadr, GNSO Councilor for the NCSG and member of NCUC.

Sally Costerton, started by explaining how the community organizes itself in terms of the different Civil society groups and how the staff organize engagement with the civil society and how civil society as a whole can engage around discussions within ICANN and more specifically the IANA transition.

Costerton exposed the main groups representing civil society within ICANN.

  • At large: Also known as ALAC represents the interest of end-users and is formed through regional ALSs (At Large Structures) so anybody can join at-Large as individual users. It is composed of RALOs (Regional At Large Organizations) and Advisory Committees.
  • Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group: GNSO, nonprofit organizations
  • Non-Commercial Users Constituency: NCUC involved in education, research, heavily involved in issues around the transition, and how to bring Human Rights into ICANN Bylaws.
  • NPOC: Not-for-Profit Operational Constituency this is the newest one and it’s helping those organizations to be the most successful operationally, and advises them.

Sally Costerton, also mentioned how ICANN funds in terms of travel support and per-diems allowing people particularly from civil society who can’t afford to attend ICANN meetings and build their capacities and understanding.

Aziz Hilali, AFRALO Chair, introduced the At Large as the community of individual Internet users who participate in the policy development work of ICANN. Hilali pointed to the bottom-up approach and multi-stakeholder model in policy development.

Any group that supports individuals’ ability to share their views on ICANN issues can join such as:

  • Professional societies (e.g. engineers, attorneys, etc.)
  • Academic and research organizations
  • Community networking groups
  • Consumer advocacy groups
  • Internet Society chapters
  • Computer user organizations
  • Internet civil society groups

Hilali then shed light on how ALs represent a voice for their respective communities, showing the At Large organizational diagram, the AFRALO Activities such as on-site and virtual trainings for African ALs and stated that there are 40 at large structures representing 30 countries of the African region.

Rafik Dammak, NCUC Chair, introduced the Non-Commercial Users Constituency role in developing DNS policy. Dammak explained how we are participating in the policy development process within GNSO. He also clarified how individuals can join both constituencies and how it s not exclusive but rather complimentary and people can join both.

Dammak, shed light on the impact of civil society on Domain Name Policies and advising the ICANN board. He added that, unlike other organistaions, civil society within ICANN can elect representatives in the board and vote the policies after debating upon them.

When talking about civil society, we are mainly dealing with either NGOs or activists and researchers (in their individual capacity), and in NCUC, we accept both.

Rafik Dammak, then made an important distinction between Contracted Parties House, including registries and registrars, and the Non-Contracted Parties House, made of commercial and non-commercial constituencies.

The Non-Commercial Constituency represents those who don’t have a financial profit from Domain Names, and we are defending end-users like activists, academics, researchers, NGOs, Universities, charities, Think-tanks etc., and also registrants.

We focus on Human Rights, Data Protection, Privacy, issues with development and Access to Knowledge, and insuring a balance between Freedom of Expression and trademarks.

Rafik Dammak, gave some statistics about NCUC which is counting around 500 members from 128 different countries. Dammak added “We are trying to impose diversity within ICANN though NCUC is one of the most diverse groups in GNSO” and urged the audience to participate to the public comments and consultations.

Amr Elsadr, GNSO Councilor for the NCSG and member of NCUC, participated with a panel on “GNSO Policy Development Process”. He exposed the steps of this process starting with a “Request for Issue Report”, to the Publication and Gathering Comments on the Issue Report and Initiation of Policy Development Process. Then, he mentioned the Formation of a Working Group in order to draft a WG Final Report. The third step revolves around GNSO Council Deliberating, recommending ICANN Board, gathering Public Comments, voting, and eventually implementing the Policy through an Implementation Review Team.

Elsadr, managed to shed light on the PDP work and the bottom-up policy development process within ICANN, and how this is one-way to participate in Working Groups.

The Way Forward: Personal Assessment

As far as I am concerned, DNS industry in the Middle East can only flourish if we develop local content to generate more domains in the Middle East region.

Also, it is noteworthy, that there’s a lack of participation and incentive from Middle East countries in participating to the development of policies in DNS which hinders the development of that industry.

Civil Society organizations and activists of the region should step up to the plate and be more active within ICANN; there’s is an obvious problem of raising consciousness and lack of outreach events to incite them.

Besides, doing business and founding startups in Tunisia should also target outside markets while using the .tn domain name.

I also strongly support Stephan Van Gelder’s, suggestions to improve civil society representation in Internet Governance:

  1. The Nominating Committee which helps individuals attend meetings and better understand ICANN’s workings. It can, therefore, overcome the lacunae in civil society’s representation within ICANN.
  2. The Private/Commercial organisms, through partnerships, represent civil society values in their respective sectors. This opportunity came with the New gTLD program.

Mr. Tijani Ben Jemaa, on the other hand, suggested a future new gTLD round dedicated for underserved regions with minimal application fee which might remedy to the obstacles of the DNS industry Middle East region in general and help young entrepreneurs and students in particular.

I also believe that integrating stakeholder groups definitely familiarizes us with policy development processes but ICANN should work more on facilitating the transition of individuals from end-users to observers and then to members. The new members should be coached and mentored them through constituencies’ oldies to make them active and involved so that they optimize their participation.

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