ICANN needs to take steps to ensure it cannot be taken over by governments and other outside entities, and it needs to create more ways to be held accountable to Internet users, constituents of the nonprofit organization said Wednesday.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the organization overseeing the Web's top-level domain naming system, heard several concerns during a meeting focused on improving confidence in ICANN. But concerns about outside takeover of the organization and critiques of ICANN's transparency came up several times during the Washington, D.C., meeting.
An oversight agreement between the U.S. government and ICANN expires in a year, and ICANN officials say they do not plan to sign a new agreement. But in recent years, representatives of several other countries have called for an international organization to oversee the 10-year-old ICANN.
Many e-commerce companies don't want a new model of international control of ICANN, said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a trade group representing several U.S. companies, including eBay, Yahoo, and Oracle. Continued U.S. government oversight may keep other nations from exerting control, he said.
To ensure against an outside entity taking control, ICANN has proposed that it remain located in the United States, with its relatively strong antitrust and competition laws, and the organization is trying to increase participation in its activities. ICANN officials have also proposed that a consensus or supermajority of participants agree on changes in policy, and they have suggested the organization should limit companies or individuals participation in multiple ICANN committees.
Those suggestions aren't enough, DelBianco said. "It's as if ICANN wants to sort of check that box with a series of bureaucratic measures that are primarily designed to prevent capture from internal parts of the ICANN community," he said. "The real threat of capture, I believe, is from external threats."
ICANN has a $60 million budget and manages the backbone of the Internet, making it a desirable target for takeover, DelBianco added. "ICANN becomes a magnet for the United Nations and other governments who would covet that role," he added. "I think this demonstrates the adage that money and power don't buy you friends, but they get you a better class of enemies."
Yrjö Länsipuro, a member of the ICANN President's Strategy Committee, discounted DelBianco's fears. While Russia continues to urge international control of ICANN, other countries haven't recently pressed the issue, said Länsipuro, who works for Finland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
"Governments are watching each other," he said. "It's inconceivable that one government would be able to [take over ICANN] when all the others are watching."
But Marilyn Cade, another member of the President's Strategy Committee, disagreed, saying outside takeover is an ongoing and pressing concern. Much of the debate over control of ICANN stems from a "lack of understanding" of the role of ICANN, said Cade, an independent consultant and former vice president for Internet governance at AT&T.