The risk of Internet fragmentation lies more and more with approaches which would have the effect of forcing data (and thus, information and communications) to remain within a particular country or territory, says Jean-Jacques Sahel, Vice-President, Europe (Global Stakeholder Engagement) of ICANN.
The Digital Post: How does the multistakeholder model work in practice, and how does it apply to the stewardship of the IANA functions in the framework of the new status of ICANN?
Jean-Jacques Sahel: The multistakeholder model, put simply, is when you are trying to develop policies or procedures around a specific issue and you involve in the process all the relevant actors associated with it, including those who are able to influence it or those who might be impacted by it.
Ever since ICANN was created, in 1998, the US government expressed the will of handing the IANA functions oversight over to the international community. But it took longer than expected for a number of reasons. At the same time, international attention was growing: people started to realize the importance of the Internet and some questioned why the US had this sole role.
That said, the time between our inception and when the IANA Stewardship transition took place, actually allowed for ICANN and the international multistakeholder community to mature slowly and effectively. After nearly 18 years, we have now a very stable mechanism and strong expertise which can work well independently, without US Government oversight.
TDP: Maybe the Snowden revelations had a role in accelerating the transition?
JJS: That’s what some people have said. In my view, the transition is the result of a combination of several factors. It wasn’t a breakthrough, because we knew it was supposed to happen. It was a natural evolution. In any case, it was an impressive and historical step on a very sensitive issue.
What was impressive as well was the entire process. What we call the multistakeholder process. This involved a global consultation with working groups that were made up of several hundred people from all over the world. Completely different stakeholder groups were involved, many of them not used to responding to consultations or doing international negotiations, etc. We managed an institutional reform that was unprecedented within barely two years.
I also want to draw your attention here to a very important fact, that this continuous evolution is inbuilt within ICANN. We have continuously worked on improving our accountability, which resulted in ICANN undergoing several reforms, specifically three major ones since inception in 1998. We’re proud to be an international institution that put so many efforts at improving, evolving, and reforming itself in that short space of time.
TDP: Why is it better that key internet functions are governed by a multistakeholder model, instead of a multilateral (i.e. only governments) model?
JJS: It’s been the way since we began. This environment allows for the Internet to flourish reflecting the diversity in voices from different regions and stakeholders. For me, the multistakeholder model brings the diversity, and allows us to be transparent which in turn makes us accountable. Our process is based on wide consensus, which implies that completely different stakeholders should agree with each other. I think that in itself brings accountability. The other thing, of course, is the expertise that the multistakeholder model brings in.
TDP: What are the main risks that could threaten the good functioning of internet governance in the following years?
JJS: What is worrisome is the risk of fragmentation. This may not happen automatically, say, with a country that breaks away from the Internet and creates its own internet. No, it may be more about the risk of approaches being taken at national or regional level, for a number of motives, which would have the effect of forcing data, (and thus, information and communications) to remain within a particular country or territory, thus limiting the vast potential benefits that the global nature of the Internet offers in the right environment. We need to remember that the Internet is overwhelmingly a force for good, and we need to work hard to harness it for the benefit of our economies, our societies, and us as individuals. That’s what I work towards through my role at ICANN.
Picture credit: Paul Coyne
The IANA Stewardship Transition was a major catalyst for change. Today, ICANN’s mission and core values have been clarified, and any lingering ambiguities about them have been removed, says ICANN CEO Göran Marby.
The Digital Post: After the contract with the US government expired on Oct. 1, how exactly will ICANN make sure it is accountable to the international multi-stakeholder community?
Göran Marby: Ensuring a strong governance structure and an appropriate number of checks and balances within ICANN was a critical aspect of the transition process.
To replace the U.S. Government’s oversight role, the ICANN community created new powers to hold ICANN the organization and the Board of Directors accountable to the global community of stakeholders. Some of these new powers include rejecting operating plans and budgets, approving or rejecting changes to the Bylaws, removing individual ICANN Board directors, and even the power to recall the entire ICANN Board.
The ICANN community also created a more mature and expanded system, where complaints will be handled more transparently and efficiently. ICANN’s Request for Reconsideration and Independent Review processes are now stronger, which empowers the global community to have a direct line of recourse if they disagree with decisions made by the organization or the Board.
It’s important to note that ICANN is continuously working on enhancing our accountability and transparency with the global community. Since ICANN’s inception in 1998, several accountability reforms have taken place. The first major reform, which was known as the ‘Evolution and Reform Process,’ took place in 2002. Two other reforms occurred in 2010 and 2013.
The IANA Stewardship Transition was a major catalyst for change. Today, ICANN’s mission and core values have been clarified, and any lingering ambiguities about them have been removed. There is now no more disagreement on what ICANN’s mission means, and the scope of the organization’s responsibilities are clear. As CEO my team and I are committed to living up to our mission and work day in, day out to be accountable to our community and through ever increasing transparency show what we are doing.
TDP: Critics continue to argue that the end of US oversight over IANA will pave the way for authoritarian regimes to be able to exercise greater control over the Internet. Is that true?
GM: Absolutely not. In this post-IANA Stewardship Transition environment, there is nothing that increases the role of governments over the Domain Name System (DNS) or ICANN as an organization.
ICANN’s multistakeholder model is designed to ensure that no single entity, whether it be a government, business or other interest group, can capture ICANN or exclude other parties from the decision-making processes.
Features of this model include open processes where anyone can participate, decisions are made by consensus, there are established appeals mechanisms, and a system of transparent and public meetings to discuss policy. But it’s also important to remember that everyone, governments included have a place at ICANN. All voices and stakeholders are welcome in our multistakeholder way of working.
These elements have all been reinforced by the transition, truly evolving ICANN into a more internationally distributed entity, which is accountable to a global community that includes a diverse group of stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds and affiliations.
TDP: Since the WCIT-12 ended in “acrimony,” the issue of who should have policy responsibility for ICANN’s role on the Critical Internet Infrastructure has regularly resurfaced both in the ITU and in the UN CSTD process on “Enhanced Cooperation” . What is your view?
GM: To be clear, the WCIT-12 was not about control of the Internet or of ICANN. It is true there was some debate about the role of ICANN and whether the UN should facilitate Internet governance policy discussions. However, ICANN’s multistakeholder approach for Internet governance was positively recognized by the UN at the WSIS+10 Review discussions at the UNGA in December 2015. Today, with the completion of the IANA Stewardship Transition and removal of the special symbolic role represented historically by the U.S. Government, we have eliminated the leverage used in international debates by some who favour UN facilitation of Internet governance discussions.
It should be understood that ICANN does cooperate with the ITU on several different issues, such as in the WSIS Working Group, at the WSIS forum and in the Open Consultation on Internet policy issues. We are also engaged in the UN CSTD process on “Enhanced Cooperation,” which I am confident will recognize the contribution all stakeholders make on matters of Internet governance.
TDP: In-spite of the efforts made by former European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, the impression is that the EU has seemingly shown not enough commitment, unity and leadership on Internet Governance and ICANN related issues. What is your opinion?
GM: European efforts on Internet governance have increased over the past few years – the IANA Stewardship Transition process was a good demonstration of that. Overall, European governments were heavily engaged in the discussions throughout the process, provided constructive input, and worked in concert with each other. On several issues, their voices were pivotal to finding consensus at the global level.
What’s even more remarkable in regards to Europe’s role in the IANA Stewardship Transition was the huge part played by European stakeholders. Whether they were country code domain registries, NGOs, academics or representatives of the wider business and technical community, Europeans made up roughly 30% of the hundreds of participants involved in the transition discussions.
European stakeholders also held many key leadership positions, and showed that Europe has an important place at the table when shaping ICANN’s future. As with all regions, we hope European stakeholders will continue to grow their involvement at ICANN and in Internet governance issues.
TDP: ICANN plays an important role in bodies such as OECD, ITU and IGF; how do you see this evolving post IANA Transition?
GM: While vitally important for the relationships and management of ICANN, the IANA Stewardship Transition by no means signals that ICANN will change its involvement in broader dialogues on Internet policy issues. ICANN will continue to play its part in international discussions, but to be clear, as it is in line with its mission and bylaws.
We will continue to engage with our partners in the technical community and international bodies such as the ITU, the OECD (where we are Observers on their main Digital Policy Committee), the IGF (which we have supported since its inception in 2005), the Council of Europe and the International Organization of Francophonie.
Picture credit: Dicemanic
The transition process has provided a unique opportunity for the global community to gather with a shared purpose, to achieve the common vision of evolving the core Internet functions efficiently.
It’s over a year since work started for several multistakeholder groups on the transition of the US Government stewardship over the IANA functions.
One of the four key conditions set by the US Government was that the transition proposal should ‘Support and enhance the multistakeholder model’.
If the transition process itself is anything to go by, this condition will easily be met. In fact, this process has been a remarkable embodiment of the model, and is helping to make it stronger. The transition has provided a unique opportunity for the global community to gather with a shared purpose, to achieve the common vision of evolving the core Internet functions efficiently.
Bringing in these different views, perspectives and personalities together could have been a major challenge. Instead, the remarkable progress achieved so far, shows that this challenge has turned into a hugely positive exercise. The different stakeholder groups and different regions of the world, have come together as a team to produce high quality, highly researched work. The mix of lawyers, economists, engineers, civil society and user voices or academic experts in governance has ensured much-needed, robust exchanges and solidly developed material. The sensible and well thought-out proposals that have emerged are a testament to that impressive, pioneering collaboration.
And if several extra weeks have been taken here and there to ensure that the proposals would be as robust and consensual as possible, it has been a quick process by any standard: it would be hard to find an example in history of such a global exercise and major, critical evolution happening in such a short space of time, and with such quality and cohesiveness.
From a European perspective we can be proud, too: European stakeholders have been very active in the transition discussions, with in particular several positions of co-chairs of working groups held by Europeans. Several of these co-chairs joined us at a recent event on Internet Governance held by the European Internet Forum (EIF) in Brussels, where during his keynote intervention Fadi Chehade underscored how our region’s participation, with its vast experience in building collaborative institutions, has brought strong input into both the structural aspects of the transition, and the accountability and governance work.
The Multistakeholder model comes out of this process not just as the proven way of coordinating the management of critical Internet resources, but more importantly, it is reinforced as a crucial method for handling the complex, transnational endeavours of our global age.
Our community should be proud to have pioneered and evolved this system which drives successful global cooperation – a worthy direction for the future.
Originally posted on: ICANN blog