ICANN Accountability refers to ICANN's commitment to maintaining and improving mechanisms for public input, responsibility, and transparency so that ICANN’s decision-making processes reflect the public interest and are accountable to the Internet community.
ICANN's Accountability and Transparency Draft Frameworks and Principles lists the types and sources of accountability that have been built into the organization since its inception.
External Accountability: Incorporated Status
ICANN is incorporated as a non-profit public benefit corporation in California, United States, which means ICANN must abide by the laws of that California and country and can be called to account by the judicial system.
The ICANN Bylaws
The ICANN Bylaws are the internal rules by which the Corporation operates.
The Representative Composition of the ICANN Board
The ICANN Board draws its membership from community selection and through a Nominating Committee.
Offices & Programs
ICANN has created a number of offices and programs for the assessment and review of its level of accountability and transparency.
- Office of the Ombudsman
- ICANN Anonymous Hotline Policy and Procedures for the Hotline Committee (ICANN’s General Counsel and Secretary, Deputy General Counsel, and Senior Vice President of Global Human Resource)
The senior staff of ICANN serve as officers of the organization and are elected annually by the Board.
The Nominating Committee is representative of the ICANN Community so that it can select appropriate members for the ICANN Board. The size of the committee and the breadth of representation are meant to ensure that it cannot be captured by one interest group or allow individuals to force their ideas onto others.
There are three stages in the ICANN financial accountability framework:
- planning, which encompasses Strategic Planning, Operational Planning, and budgeting. In the first six months of each fiscal year, ICANN develops its three-year strategic plan; in the second six months of the year, ICANN develops the operating plan and the budget for the next fiscal year;
- monitoring, part of which includes the ICANN Board's two committees for reviewing ICANN’s financial affairs: the Finance Committee and the Audit Committee; and
- reporting, part of which includes the Audit Committee's presentation to the Board of a final audited set of accounts following the end of the fiscal year, an audit report examining the standard of compliance with accounting standards, and the posting of final accounts on ICANN's website.
For a period of time, ICANN published a quantitative report of accountability indicators to demonstrate progress toward ICANN Governance objectives, as outlined in the organization's strategic and operating plans.
ICANN also issues a "Transparency Report" at the end of each fiscal year, documenting statistics relevant to transparency efforts. regarding the total percentage of internal process documents that are made publicly available.
ICANN Documentary Information Disclosure Policy
From its inception, members of the community have expressed concern regarding the transparency of ICANN's process and its accountability to stakeholders. At the first ICANN Meeting, attendees were critical of the board's decision to enter a closed-door session for a discussion of the creation of Supporting Organizations.
Accountability, along with transparency, became a primary focal point of the ICANN community shortly after the NTIA announced its intent to transition the stewardship of the IANA functions to the global multistakeholder community. ICANN, already bestowed with the IANA functions contract and coordination of the DNS, was asked to kick-start a multistakeholder process aimed at developing a proposal for the transition. During the early stages of this process, the community raised concern over the outlook of ICANN’s accountability following the transition. 
From the days of ICANN’s infancy, a high degree of accountability was set in place by a contractual relationship between ICANN and the United States government. The renewal process of the IANA functions contract served as a backstop to ICANN accountability. The relinquishment of this role by the US government created the opportunity and the necessity to examine the efficacy of existing accountability mechanisms.
The IANA Transition led to the formation of the Cross Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG-Accountability) to determine how to strengthen and ensure accountability within ICANN. The CCWG immediately began working on developing proposed reforms to the accountability mechanisms currently in place, publishing its First Draft Proposal in May 2015.
Enhancing ICANN Accountability is inherently intertwined with the IANA Stewardship Transition. In fact, there may not be any specific topic surrounding the transition that carries more weight than the outcomes of the process for formalizing and empowering accountability mechanisms.
Reviewing and Improving ICANN's Accountability
The CCWG-Accountability was developed in response to a community that did not believe that the ICANN Board’s proposal adequately met the needs of the global multistakeholder community. The accountability process that was originally designed by ICANN received unfavorable public comments, resulting in a revised proposal. After the revised version, the suggestion of a two-tier working group once again received a negative response during the Public Comment period. ICANN stakeholders submitted a joint rejection letter to the ICANN Board demanding a community-driven approach.
The joint letter combined with reiterated demands for accountability improvements at an ICANN Town Hall Session at the United Nations Ninth Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and favorable comments coming from the NTIA, led the board to concede at ICANN 51 in Los Angeles that accountability and the IANA Functions Stewardship Transition are ultimately intertwined. Based on strong community sentiment, the structure originally proposed by ICANN, the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group, was adapted into the CCWG-Accountability, which became the vehicle for creating a proposed improvement to the mechanisms already in place.
In May 2015, the CCWG submitted their First Draft Proposal, which proposed SO/ACs as Members of ICANN, giving them the ability to exercise certain accountability powers. These comments on this initial proposal expressed concerns with the individual SO/AC roles and legal personality required under this model.
In responding to the raised concerns, the CCWG met in Paris for a face-to-face meeting and united around the Sole Member Model, which presented SOs and ACs as a single member of ICANN. This model was then developed into the CCWG’s Second Draft Proposal, which introduced the Community Mechanism as a Sole Member (CMSM) model.
The second proposal was met with significant resistance by ICANN’s board, which provided an alternative proposal in the form of the Multistakeholder Enforcement Mechanism (MEM) model. This led the CCWG to call for a Face-to-Face meeting in Los Angeles. At this meeting, the board drew a “red line,” communicating that it could not accept a model involving Membership. Accordingly, CCWG participants began exploring alternative options, including considering a “designator” model. However, the Board asserted that like the Membership model, a designator model was unacceptable.
There was no final proposal for review at ICANN 54 in Dublin.
Summary of Proposed Changes, November 2015
In a blog post from 15 November 2015, ICANN outlined a summary of changes proposed by the CCWG. They are as follows:
- A revised Mission statement for the ICANN Bylaws that sets out what ICANN does. This Mission statement clarifies but does not change ICANN's historic mission
- An enhanced Independent Review Process and redress process with a broader scope and the power to ensure ICANN stays within its revised Mission
- New specific powers for the ICANN community that can be enforced when the usual methods of discussion and dialogue have not effectively built consensus including the powers to:
- Reject ICANN Budgets, Operating Plans, or Strategic Plans
- Reject changes to ICANN's Bylaws
- Approve changes to new Fundamental Bylaws
- Remove an individual ICANN Director from the Board
- Recall the entire ICANN Board
- An additional new power that gives the community a say in decisions about the IANA Function Reviews and any separation of the IANA Names Functions.
All of these community powers can only be exercised after extensive community discussions and debates through processes of engagement and escalation. The process of escalation provides many opportunities for the resolution of disagreements between the parties before formal action is required.
The accountability elements outlined above will be supported through:
- Additions to the ICANN Bylaws to create an ICANN Empowered Community that is based on a simple legal vehicle that will act on the instructions of ICANN Stakeholder Groups to exercise the Community Powers. The Empowered Community is granted the status of a Designator (a recognized role in law) and has the standing to enforce the Community Powers if needed.
- Core elements of ICANN's governing documents (the Articles and Bylaws) being categorized as Fundamental Bylaws that can only be changed with an agreement between the ICANN community and the ICANN Board.
In addition, further proposed changes include:
- A recognition of ICANN's respect for Human Rights
- Incorporation of ICANN's commitments under the 2009 Affirmation of Commitments with the United States Department of Commerce into the Bylaws, where appropriate
- Improved accountability and diversity for ICANN's Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees
- A commitment to discussing additional accountability improvements and broader accountability enhancements in 2016, following the implementation of this core set of accountability improvements
To develop these recommendations to improve ICANN's accountability, the Working Group:
- Relied on suggestions and proposals generated inside the Working Group and by the broader Internet multistakeholder community
- Conducted public comment periods to gather feedback on earlier drafts and discussed iterations of its recommendations across the world at ICANN meetings and through online webinars
- Rigorously "stress tested" ICANN's current and proposed accountability mechanisms to test their strength against problematic scenarios the organization could potentially face
- Engaged two external law firms to ensure the legal reliability of the proposed accountability enhancements
- Made the minimum enhancements to ICANN's accountability necessary to meet the baseline requirements of the community, as required for the IANA Stewardship Transition
- Met the requirements of the group that developed the IANA Stewardship Transition proposal for the Domain Names community
- Met the requirements of the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Agency for the IANA Stewardship Transition
Accountability and Transparency Reviews
Following the Affirmation of Commitments, ICANN enshrined its commitment to ensuring the accountability and transparency of its decision-making in its bylaws and began reviewing the organization's fulfillment of this commitment in 2010 with the First Accountability and Transparency Review. Since then, a Second Accountability and Transparency Review and Third Accountability and Transparency Review have followed. ATRT3, in particular, recommended sweeping changes to the ways in which ICANN org, SOs, and ACs review and report upon their efficiency and representation of stakeholders.
- 2007 Accountability Draft Framework, ICANN
- Hotline Policy Document V. 3.0, ICANN
- Procedures for Handling Hotline Reports, ICANN version Nov 4, 2021
- See, e.g. ICANN Transparency Report - 2019-20, June 30, 2020
- ICANN.org - Documentary Information Disclosure Policy, last updated February 25, 2012
- Google Books: NetworkWorld, Google.com. Published 8 March 1999.]
- Enhancing ICANN Accountability: Process and Next Steps
- Enhancing ICANN Accountability: Process and Next Steps
- Chronology of Recent ICANN Accountability milestones
- Stakeholders Joint Letter
- Chronology of Recent ICANN Accountability milestones
- CCWG-Accountability Issues Formal Update. Retrieved 17 Nov 2015.