ICANN Task Force: Challenges in Enhancing Transparency

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An ICANN task force reviewed the disclosure requirements for ICANN policy development participants but couldn't reach a consensus to enhance transparency obligations. Their recommendations include exemptions for those who believe they have an ethical duty to protect their clients' identity. The call is for ICANN to continue efforts to improve transparency in its multistakeholder model.

Contrary to a common misconception, ICANN does not serve as the regulator of the Domain Name System (DNS). Its primary mission revolves around ensuring the security and stability of the domain name system, primarily by overseeing the operation of internet root servers. Additionally, ICANN plays a vital role in shaping policies and procedures related to domain name registration. This pivotal function is outlined in its governing bylaws.

The process of policy development is anchored in a consensus-based multistakeholder model. In simpler terms, this approach allows any individual or corporation with a vested interest in the DNS to actively participate in working groups, exerting influence over the content of policies that apply to every facet of the domain name ecosystem, from registries and registrars to registrants.

This unique model places a strong emphasis on transparency and fairness. Consequently, every participant is requested to disclose their identity and organisational affiliations openly.

However, as the domain name industry experiences exponential growth and the intertwining of financial interests, working groups have witnessed an influx of legal professionals and consultants who, on occasion, refrain from revealing the identities of their clients. An instance that underscored this challenge was the Privacy Proxy Service Accreditation Issues Working Group, which, at one point, saw the participation of five lawyers from the same firm. Aside from the peculiarity of hearing these colleagues echo one another during working group calls, the more critical issue was the non-disclosure of their client(s). Whether they represented the same client or multiple undisclosed entities remained unclear.

In response to this concern, an ICANN task force undertook a review of the requirements pertaining to the statement of interest (SOI) that all working group participants are expected to complete. Their findings revealed the following:

1. The information provided is typically insufficient to assess the interests and objectives of a participant.

2. The reality of community members participating in multiple ICANN fora and groups.

3. A lack of updates to reflect specific interests in a particular effort.

4. The SOI often fails to reflect how a potential outcome might impact a member and their employer or client.

5. There's no mandatory requirement for consultants or lawyers to disclose their clients.

Since transparency is fundamental to the effective functioning of any multistakeholder model, the disclosure of interests represented by working group participants should have been straightforward. Unfortunately, it became a point of contention as the Task Force couldn't reach a consensus to enhance transparency obligations. Instead, a significant exemption was included to accommodate professionals who believe they have an ethical duty to shield the identity of the company footing their bills.

The recommendations stemming from the task force's findings are notably inadequate. Consequently, we express the hope that ICANN will continue its efforts to enhance the transparency of the interests represented by its community members. It is a critical step toward ensuring a more accountable and transparent domain name ecosystem.

About the Author:
Luc Seufer is the Chief Legal Officer at EuroDNS. He's been deep in the trenches, negotiating with ICANN to make the internet a safer place. With tons of experience in the domain name world, he's super passionate about tackling DNS abuse and making the online world a better place for all of us.

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