WASHINGTON - Critics of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) told a U.S. Senate subcommittee Thursday that the organization that manages the Internet DNS (domain name system) may be making improvements, but it still needs to improve its efforts to include regular Internet users in its decisions.
One witness at the hearing questioned ICANN's decision in late 2002 to get rid of its nine at-large board members, and another questioned whether the private organization was open enough in its business dealings.
The U.S. Department of Commerce has not yet decided whether to renew its memorandum of understanding that gives ICANN the power to manage the DNS in the U.S., said Nancy Victory, assistant secretary for communications and information in the agency's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The agency must make the decision by September, but it is waiting for a report from ICANN due next week, Victory told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Communications.
Senator Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, asked Victory's agency to report back to the subcommittee by the end of August with recommendations about the future of ICANN. Burns, the chairman of the subcommittee, said the lack of accountability of ICANN to the U.S. government raises cybersecurity concerns, and he said he's considering legislation aimed at making ICANN more accountable.
"I am particularly concerned that the lack of accountability for this quasi-governmental organization poses serious dangers for American national security," Burns said. "While we have made great strides in combating terrorism, our nation is still very vulnerable to the threat of a massive cyber attack."
New ICANN President and Chief Executive Office Paul Twomey said the organization is making significant changes to respond to its critics. "It is hard to overstate the comprehensiveness of the ICANN reforms that have taken place over the last year," Twomey said. "ICANN 2.0, as we call it, is still a work in progress, but in completing this reform and reorganization, the ICANN community has demonstrated that it builds consensus on important and controversial issues."
Twomey, who was appointed to his job in March, noted a number of reforms that ICANN has worked on in the past year, including creating an ombudsman program where people can appeal ICANN decisions, establishing an at-large advisory committee and regional at-large groups where the public can participate, and working on several consumer issues, including a redemption grace period service, where owners of lapsed domain names can pick them back up.
But Paul Stahura, chief executive officer of domain name registrar eNom Inc., questioned ICANN's handling of another of the changes listed by Twomey, the so-called Wait List Service. The service allows people who want a domain name that's in use to be put on a list to be next in line if the current owner lets the domain name expire. The Wait List Service was proposed by VeriSign Inc., which operates the .com and .net top-level domains, but critics such as Stahura say it will reduce competition among domain registrars.
In August 2002, ICANN approved a one-year test of a Wait List Service, but two lawsuits have been filed this month to stop the service. The ICANN board's approval of the Wait List Service was accompanied by a request for the ICANN staff to negotiate agreements with VeriSign on the proposal, and Stahura said those negotiations lock out others who want to have input.