IGMENA Hangout : IANA Stewardship Transition to ICANN : Are we heading for a decentralized Internet?

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The third IGMENA Google Hangout of 2016 addressed the topic of the IANA Stewardship Transition to ICANN : Are we heading for a decentralized Internet ? The debate was moderated by Mr. Hamza Ben Mehrez, the Policy Analyst Lead at IGMENA. The participants invited to this debate were prominent Internet governance experts from across the MENA Region.

Mr.Fahd Batyana, Stakeholder Engagement Manager ICANN, Jordan Mrs. Wafa Dahmani, Senior Engineer & Head of Internet Resources Department, Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), Tunisia Mr. Tijani Ben Jemaa, Vice Chair at ALAC and member of the Cross Community Working Group CCWG-Accountability, Tunisia

To open this discussion, Mr.Hamza Ben Mehrez asked participants what is the IANA function and why it has to transit from US government oversight to ICANN ?

Mr. Fahd Batayna kicked the debate by mentioning that the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is a department of ICANN responsible for coordinating some of the key elements that keep the Internet running smoothly. There is a technical need for some key parts of the Internet to be globally coordinated, and this coordination role is undertaken by IANA. Specifically, IANA allocates and maintains unique codes and numbering systems that are used in the technical standards (protocols) that drive the Internet. Mr. Batayna, then mentioned that IANA’s various activities can be broadly grouped into three categories: Domain Names, IANA manages the DNS Root, the .int and .arpa domains, and an IDN practices resource. Number Resources, IANA coordinates the global pool of IP and AS numbers, providing them to Regional Internet Registries and the Protocol Assignments, Internet protocols’ numbering systems managed by IANA in conjunction with standards bodies.

Mrs. Wafa Dahmani said that over the past 15 years, ICANN has entered into a contract with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a component of the Department of Commerce, to manage the IANA function.The NTIA has a verification and an authorization role for any updates made by IANA, in other words, the US government has a control on how ICANN performs its functions. Today, the Internet is touching the lives of billions of people all over the world that’s why the multistakeholder community has to preserve an open and free flowing internet. The Internet is global and untenable, it should not remain under US government oversight endlessly.

Mr. Tijani Ben Jemaa provided a historical background on the genesis of multistakeholderism in the context of ICANN. He mentioned that after the genesis of ICANN in 1998, there was a decision to hold the World Summit on Information Society WSIS. At that time, most governments didn’t agree with the structure and the management of the internet as it is today. The Working Group on Internet Governance WGIG offered three possible solutions that couldn't be agreed upon in the first and the second phase of the WSIS. The outcome from the WSIS phase in Tunis was the genesis of the Internet Governance Forum IGF.

The Join Project Agreement JPA between ICANN and US government was replaced by the Affirmation of Commitment. Mr. Ben Jemaa added that the NTIA has transitioned the IANA function to ICANN because of Edward Snowden revelation of the depth and breadth of US government infiltration into both its domestic citizens’ lives and those in the international community. Trust in the US government legitimacy to manage the internet was half-baked by the global internet community. As a consequence, the US decided to transition the IANA function to the multistakeholder community.

Is the IANA transition to ICANN a central driver of economic, social and political freedoms. What are the significant potential risks and also potential gains ?

Mrs. Wafa Dahmani mentioned that the multistakeholder model of Internet governance is finally taking a stand on internet governance issues on a global platform. The Internet must remain plural. It must be managed by a multistakeholder system to preserve the internet as a driver for economic growth, innovation, and free speech. She said that when we talk about the IANA transition to ICANN, there is a belief that we are strengthening the multistakeholder IG model and preserving it. Concerning the risks, a new internet multistakeholder model should not be worse than the one we used to have before. About the gains, the IANA function represents a small portion of the internet ecosystem. Perhaps, with this transition, we will witness an unexpected future of how the internet is governed.

Mr. Tijan Ben Jemaa mentioned that one of the biggest risks of IANA transition is replacing US Government with US companies. The ICANN community is represented by Supporting Organization who influences ICANN policies. He mentioned that people who have money and time inside ICANN like the registries and the registrars can lobby and put the necessary money to reach what they want, that’s why the community should have the power to check and balance the decisions of the ICANN board. After the transition, the Internet will likely not change, what will change is the management.

How will ICANN manage the Internet ecosystem to ensure its continued openness and independence from government oversight?

Mr. Fahd Batayna intervened by saying that ICANN does not control everything on the internet. ICANN mandate has a very limited function of names, numbers and protocol parameters. ICANN relationship with the ITU has been extremely good. Two years ago, ICANN opened an office in geneva to work closer with government delegations whether the ITU, the UN, the UNCTAD and other UN bodies. The Digital economy has been a top priority of Sustainable development Goals, that’s why having one Internet is key to achieve this milestone. In 2015, the Digital economy contributed to 300 trillion dollars to the global economy.

Mrs. Wafa Dahmani said that we all know that the transition is going away from the US oversight, we expect other governments like China, the BRICS, and Europe to have their business model in the gTLD registrars. Governments do not have to enjoy the same power they used to enjoy before, their recommendations need to be approved by the empowered community inside ICANN in order to be taken into consideration. The unexpected reaction of the ITU or any another government or inter-governmental organization is still an unresolved issue because it is all about ‘business’ and selling new gTLDs.

Mrs. Tijani mentioned that since the arrival of Mr.Fadi Chihade ex-CEO of ICANN the relationship with governments has been enhanced significantly. There was a petition from 12 or 13 governments against the carve out in the accountability process to promote governments as a decision party. The GAC approved the final draft and the US government said that they don’t want to see another government or Inter-governmental organization managing the internet. Governments are part of the community. They should have the same power as other stakeholders inside ICANN.

How does ICANN handle human rights considerations in its policy process? What is ICANN's responsibility to human rights, or as a private California corporation ? Does ICANN have no duty to protect human rights?

Mr. Fahd Baytana mentioned that one of the remits ICANN work at the moments in Human Rights is the registering DNS and the WHOIS. For example selling illegal drugs, Human trafficking child pornographies, these are intersecting points between Domain Names and ICANN’s work. Recently, there has been a huge push from the community to include Human rights work into ICANN bylaws. After the Snowden revelations, the International Engineering task force IETF has created a protocol and HR group and one of the members of the working group is a Human rights advocate. ICANN works on HR when it comes to names number and protocol parameters which are being more integrated into ICANN bylaws.

Ms. Wafa Dahmani followed by saying that in the proposal of the CCWG accountability there is a recommendation to incorporate in ICANN bylaws that give indefinite support to HR. This implementation is likely to happen in the future. Mrs.Wafa Dahmani added by saying that we shifted from US oversight to an internal US-industry based oversight, is this something bad ? certainly not, but it’s the first step, we have to follow the next steps and look to what will change or happen during the process.

Mr. Tijani Ben Jemaa mentioned that ICANN is about names and numbers, it is not about content at all, this is clear in the mission of ICANN. Any HR impact on the ICANN work should be related to names and numbers. In the names and numbers, we have a lot of issue concerning Human Rights in the WHOIS which is the database of the registrants also of the registries. We have a big problem of privacy and we are still working on it. This is one aspect of human rights, however, however freedom of expression is not part of the work of ICANN.

The work of the CCWG-Accountability is carried out in two Work Streams: Work Stream 1: focused on mechanisms enhancing ICANN accountability that must be in place or committed to within the time frame of the IANA Stewardship Transition and Work Stream 2 that focus on addressing accountability topics for which a timeline for developing solutions and full implementation may extend beyond the IANA Stewardship Transition. Mr. Tijani concluded by saying that we hope that in the future the space of application of HR will be put forward through developing a framework of Interpretation for ICANN's Human Rights commitment and proposed draft Bylaws.

Conversation Summarized by Hamza Ben Mehrez Policy Analyst lead, IGMENA