LOS ANGELES—ICANN insider Kieren McCarthy is reporting a high-level meeting will take place today between the European Commission's vice president, Neelie Kroes (pictured), and US Assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Strickling to discuss concerns on the part of both entities regarding ICANN management in general and its rollout of new top-level domains in particular.
"In its midday press briefing," wrote McCarthy on .nxt, "the EC said Kroes 'will make clear European views on ICANN's capacity to reform. ... The briefing also stresses that Kroes will 'reiterate the EU's strong support for the multi-stakeholder model'—echoing recent remarks from the US government."
At the briefing, according to McCarthy, Kroes mentioned three main issues she intends to bring up in the meeting:
• ICANN's responsiveness to governments raising public policy concerns in the ICANN Governmental Advisory Council (GAC);
• The transparency and accountability of ICANN's internal corporate governance; and
• The handling of country-code Top Level Domains for its most concerned public authorities.
The meeting is the result of what McCarthy, who has been employed by .XXX's ICM Registry in the past, calls the "extraordinary correspondence in recent weeks" between Kroes and officials at the U.S. Department of Commerce "over the introduction of dot-xxx and ICANN's approach to governments while developing rules for hundreds of new extensions."
In the aftermath of ICANN's April 1 signing of its contract with ICM Registry to run .XXX, Kroes had sent a letter to US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke expressing her "concern about the ICANN Board's approval of dot-xxx a fortnight earlier and requested that the US government consider not allowing its addition to the global Internet 'root' (through its IANA contract with ICANN) until there had been discussions between governments."
The complete text of Kroes letter is, as follows:
Ares (2011) 384150
I am writing to express my concern regarding the recent decision by ICANN on 18th March in its meeting in San Francisco, to approve the proposed Internet Top Level Domain (TLD) ".XXX".
As you will be aware, the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN advised the ICANN Board on numerous occasions about its public policy concerns in relation to this application - the latest occasion being in San Francisco on 17th March. Many other non-governmental stakeholders have also expressed a range of concerns over several years.
In other words, the ICANN Board has determined to proceed with this proposal despite being well aware that it does not have the support of significant parts of the global Internet community.
I am particularly concerned with the absence of a mutually acceptable conclusion between the GAC and the ICANN Board, including in relation to the following specific issues:
- On 17th March 2011, the GAC confirmed the consensus view of its members that there was no active support for the .XXX application. In addition, the GAC confirmed that some GAC members remained "emphatically opposed" to it, as they were when the GAC first provided advice to the Board in 2006. (In fact, in the San Francisco meeting, a number of additional GAC members decided to add their voice to such opposition).
- The GAC also expressed specific concerns to the ICANN Board about the potential collateral implications for global Internet stability that result from introducing a TLD that may be blocked by some governments. Despite the Board's view that there was no evidence of risks for the stability of the Internet "if some blocking occurs", we understand that the Board did not seek the advice of its own Security & Stability Advisory Committee on this issue. In the interim, there are already report that at least one major country may be considering the blocking of .XXX at the national level, and that others may follow. This is a major public policy concern, not only because of the unknown effects it may have in terms of Internet stability but also because of the implications such blocking may have for Internet censorship and freedom of expression.
- The rationale provided by the ICANN as justification for not following GAC advice employs mostly procedural arguments that do not adequately reflect the significant political and cultural sensitivities created by this application and which underlie the GAC advice. Indeed, the rationale does not even provide a convincing argument that the application has demonstrated sufficient support from the adult entertainment community itself. This is perhaps not surprising given that many member of this community have been extremely vocal in their opposition to the proposed new TLD.
- There remains the outstanding concern that parents and those with responsibility for children will be given a false sense of security by the proposed filtering opportunities provided by the .XXX TLD, opportunities that it seems will have no discernable impact on the existing pornographic content currently available under other TLDs.
Most importantly, perhaps, are the wider consequences that we have all have to deal with as a result of this decision. We are both aware of the broader geo-political Internet governance debate that continues regarding the legitimacy of the ICANN model. I am concerned therefore that ICANN's decision to reject substantive GAC advice - of which there is also an apparent risk in relation to the new generic TLD process - may be detrimental to the multi-stakeholder, private sector-led model which many of us in the international community have been stoutly defending for years.
In conclusion, I would therefore consider it necessary for the GAC to reflect, at a senior level, on the broader implications of the Board's decision on .XXX, and to do so before the TLD is introduced into the global Internet. I assume that the United States government would appreciate the opportunity to hear the views of other countries on this important issue, and I very much hope therefore that I can count on your support for such an initiative,
[Handwritten] P.S. I am aware that we share views of this issue
Commerce Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling replied on April 20, as follows:
APR 20 2011
Dear Commissioner Kroes:
Thank you for your letter of April 6, 2011, sharing your concerns regarding the recent decision of the Board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to approve a registry contract agreement with ICM Registry and its implications for the long-term legitimacy of the multi-stakeholder model than ICANN represents. I share your disappointment that ICANN ignored the clear advice of governments worldwide, including the United States, by approving the new .xxx domain. ICANN's decision goes against the global public interest and will spur more government efforts to block the Internet, which we are concerned will undermine the stability, security and universal nature of the Internet.
While the Obama Administration does not support ICANN's decision, we respect the multi-stakeholder Internet governance process and do not think that it is in the long-term best interest of the United States or the global Internet community for us unilaterally to reverse the decision. Our goal is to preserve the global Internet, which is a force for innovation, economic growth, and the free flow of information. I agree with you that the Board took its action without the full support of the community and accordingly, I am dedicated to improving the responsiveness of ICANN to all stakeholders, including governments worldwide.
I firmly believe that one of the greatest challenges facing the Internet in the next five years is it political sustainability, which of course relates to the issue of the role of governments within the multi-stakeholder model. While a member of the ICANN Accountability and Transparency Review Team, I actively advanced recommendations regarding improvements ICANN needs to make to engage governments more effectively. While some progress has occurred, as reflected in the recent consultations between the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and the ICANN Board, ICANN needs to do much more. In that regard, I very much welcome your suggestion to convene a senior level exchange on these issues in the near term. My staff has made inquiries regarding the feasibility of a conference call in the next few weeks to start this process and, as I mentioned on the telephone, I would be happy to come to Brussels if you would like to host a face to face meeting.
I appreciate your candor and interest in working closely on these important issues, and look forward to our collaboration going forward.
Lawrence E Strickling
A week after sending this letter, Strickling gave a speech at the Giganet conference in which he raised the possibility of leverage the Commerce Department's control of the IANA contract with ICANN as a way to force the Marina del Rey, Calif.-based corporation to be more accountable.
"We are seriously considering these suggestions and will be seeking further comment from the global Internet community on this issue," he said.
Photo: European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes