NEW YORK, NY—The global body that coordinates the Internet’s domain name system should open itself up to public participation by creating a broadly open membership system that will allow Internet users to participate in policy-making and elect some of the body’s board of directors, according to a new study by an international team of experts. The study, written by a global team of experts known as the NGO and Academic ICANN Study (NAIS), comes as the domain names management body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), prepares to consider its future course at a meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay September 6-10.
ICANN was created in 1998 and is governed by a nineteen-member Board of Directors. In October 2000, ICANN ran a one-time online election to select five “At-Large” Directors, but since then the body has cast doubt on its commitment to continuing public participation in its Board.
The NAIS report lists steps that should be taken by ICANN to incorporate the public voice into its internal governance. NAIS recommends that the public interest can best be served through the creation of an inclusive public membership for ICANN, resting on two overarching principles: The public should be given a structure for participation in ICANN decision-making process, and the public membership should be the power to elect some of the members of the ICANN Board.
Entitled “ICANN, Legitimacy and the Public Voice: Making Global Participation and Representation Work,” the report calls on ICANN to commit itself to including the public in three major areas:
- ICANN should maintain a broad, open At-Large Membership, accessible to any Internet user with an interest in ICANN’s activities.
- The At-Large Membership must be provided with strong participatory mechanisms, to enable Members to have a persistent and continuing role in the dialogue and debate that are part of the ICANN policy process.
- The Membership must also be strongly represented at the Board level through the direct election of a number of At-Large Directors equal to the aggregate number of Directors selected by the Supporting Organizations.
The combination of these three elements will substantially legitimize ICANN’s operations, said Stefaan Verhulst, the NAIS team’s Research Coordinator. “An open membership, established participatory structures, and strong representation will create an environment in which the users affected by ICANN’s activities are empowered to influence them.”
The study group urges ICANN to quickly resolve the issue of public participation. “Unless ICANN welcomes public participation through an open, participatory, representative membership, the Internet community is likely to question its policy decisions,” said Alan Davidson of the Center for Democracy & Technology and member of the NAIS team. “The terms of office for ICANN’s five publicly-elected Directors expire in November 2002. ICANN should make it a high priority to develop and implement a system for their replacement by then.” “ICANN’s decisions have worldwide implications for hundreds of millions of Internet users,” added Don Simon, General Counsel to Common Cause and a NAIS member. “The need for that authority to rest on a strong foundation of legitimacy is clear, and can only be fulfilled when ICANN commits itself to recognizing the significant public interest in its activities.”
The NAIS report’s analysis and recommendations are products of intense study, deliberation, consultation and collaboration since NAIS’s formation in early 2001. NAIS hopes the report will facilitate an informed debate about the recommendations presented and welcomes further input. The report will be presented at the forthcoming ICANN meeting in Montevideo on the 8th of September, when ICANN’s official At Large Study Committee’s meets on the 7th.
The NGO and Academic ICANN Study (NAIS) is a collaboration of experts from around the world, formed to explore public participation in ICANN and the selection of At-Large Directors on ICANN’s governing board. NAIS mirrors ICANN’s own study effort, and was created to provide an independent examination, global in scope and grounded in a belief in the importance of public representation. The members of the NAIS team are:
- Izumi Aizu, Asia Network Research, Japan, and Adam Peake, Center for Global Communications (GLOCOM), International University of Japan.
- Jerry Berman, Alan Davidson, Rob Courtney, Center for Democracy & Technology, USA
- Christian Ahlert, Center for Interactive Media, University of Giessen, Germany
- Scott Harshbarger, Don Simon, Andy Draheim, Scott Albert Johnson, Common Cause, USA
- Alan Levin, Mark Neville, Future Perfect Corporation, South Africa
- Raúl Echeberría, Instituto Nacional de Investigatión Agropecuaria, Uruguay, and Carlos Afonso, Rede de Informações para o Terceiro Setor (RITS), Brazil
- Clement Dzidonu, International Institute for Information Technology (INIIT), Ghana
- Stefaan Verhulst, Oxford University, United Kingdom; Markle Foundation, USA
- Myungkoo Kang, Institute of Communication Research, Seoul National University, South Korea
- Jeanette Hofmann, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin/NEXUS, Germany
The NAIS project was conducted through a generous grant from the Markle Foundation (New York, USA), and an additional travel grant by DENIC (Frankfurt, Germany).