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ICANN is already under foreign government influence: the proof is in the pudding

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After I published my last online article here on The Hill, titled ‘Would the Internet Transition Impact the 2016 Election?, the issue has  sparked many debates on this important subject that worries all of us – if an “independent ICANN” would be subject to future government capture.

Recent US Congressional Opinions

Right here on The Hill, the debate has escalated. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker’s voiced her pro transition opinion in defense of an organization under her watch, the NTIA, which has pushed the transition without any ‘legal’ mandate, as noted by its own head Lawrence Strickling, during his testimony in 2015. Please read a Post Mortem Analysis of Committee Hearing here on his testimony. Pritzker was once an advisor to the failed ICANN/NetMundial Initiative by the former CEO of ICANN in partnership with Dilma Rousseff, the now ousted Brazilian president. Pritzker’s view of the transition doesn’t seem clearly thought out.

Last week, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly blasted the transition saying the threat of influence and censorship by oppressive regimes is real. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) thinks the transition should be delayed warning of various accountability issues pending at ICANN including citing the government intervention over the .africa application and others.  Republican Presidential Nominee Donald J. Trump also slammed the Transition plan as giving away the internet to an “international stakeholder group that are already tasked with running those functions”. Other groups such as National security experts also wrote a joint letter urging the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to oppose transition.

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Board is already a threat to our liberty

Putting aside the voices of those of the “International Stakeholder Group”, who are the main advocates of this transition, those of us who know ICANN know that ICANN is already under Government influence.  ICANN has given the organization it created, namely the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) enough veto power that it allowed it to object to any applicant it wants frivolously, without following its own consensus based policy, created over many years by the community.   

ICANN only self corrects itself temporarily when caught in the act

ICANN cannot self-regulate, in principle no institution should, certainly not by an International Stakeholder Group of free riders, who have conveniently set up the guidelines themselves under the rules where “the gatekeeper is also the poacher”.  The conflict of interest of their associations is very prevalent. ICANN wants us to trust the new accountability program it created without being tested, but it has not demonstrated to fix what it has already broken.  As Henry Ford was known to say, “But you can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do”.

ICANN’s quid pro quo with Governments

The reason that ICANN went against our application for .africa is widely known. ICANN was courting the favor of African Union Commission (AUC) an intergovernmental Organization that has 53 African Governments under its membership.  

The AUC was opportunistically invited to join by ICANN and GAC, just before the application open period in 2013, to provide a platform to object to our application on behalf of its own. The AUC accomplished this in coordination with 17 African Governments using a questionable GAC objection advice to ICANN to throw us out of the playing field.   

Beyond that, ICANN is also well aware of the globally reported issue that the AUC stopped me personally from delivering a Keynote speech on Girl’s ICT day, at an ITU- hosted event at the AUC headquarters, in my own country of origin, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, because of the .Africa dispute.   

ICANN’s Independent Accountability process is in itself a travesty

When ICANN rejected our application, we went to exercise our rights to utilize ICANN’s own Independent Review Panel (IRP) mechanism. We became the first applicant to challenge ICANN under this new gTLD program. Many other aggrieved applicants (up to 14) followed including Amazon which was also objected by government of Brazil – which had a close relationship with ICANN at the time, due to NMI.  Our IRP was presided by an international tribunal of three respected jurists. After almost two years of deliberation, we won unanimously over the entire governmental objection. The tribunal found the objection had no merit, thus ICANN violated its own bylaws by not acting fairly, transparently and following their own rules.  There was also a welcome win recently on DotRegistry, where an IRP panel ruled against ICANN in a similar fashion.

However, because of the ICANN/AUC apparent quid pro quo, ICANN again subverted its own rules, by ignoring the recommendations made by the panel and rejected our application again at the final hour.

.Africa a noteworthy example of unwarranted government takeover

We are now forced to go to Court to challenge ICANN.  To date, we have been granted a Temporary Restraining Order and a Preliminary Injunction.  Therefore, should ICANN be left to its own machinations of self-governance, there is no doubt it would fall prey to governmental interference, influence and power.

The history of the .africa domain is one noteworthy example of undue government influence.  This is also not a case of the Power-of-One, although that still holds a place in the U.S. system that upholds respect for individual human rights.  Our precedent setting wins are in the interest of the global community. 

Based on the aforementioned, we strongly believe the U.S. Congress should continue to delay the transition.  The liberty of the global Internet stakeholder is at stake.

Bekele is CEO of DCA Trust and CBS International. She is a former ICANN policy adviser and adviser to various UN agencies on ICTs, and the founder and spearhead of the Yes2DotAfrica campaign.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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