ICANN Meeting San Francisco: GNSO Council Public Meeting

Unfortunately, but not entirely unpredictably, the “New gTLD Program: Discussion of Issues Identified by the GAC” scheduled for Wednesday morning did not happen. From 9:00 to 9:30am, various representatives of non-GAC constituent groups spoke about their hopes for progress regarding the gTLD program to Peter Dengate Thrush, the single member of the ICANN Board in attendance. Dengate Thrush wrapped the comments up with a statement that meetings between ICANN and the GAC were part of the bylaw consultation process, and that the GAC was correct not to sacrifice concerns with the existing DAG just to facilitate a speedy gTLD roll out.

The ICANN Board and the GAC each convened separately in closed meetings for the remainder of the day.

The GNSO Council Public Meeting on Wednesday afternoon was an eye-opening experience. Members of the GNSO Council met publicly to vote on a variety of controversial issues, resulting in several heated discussions between council members and public attendees. Representatives of registries and registrars were extremely vocal throughout the meeting, and provided prime examples of ICANN’s capture by these groups.

One contentious topic of discussion in the GNSO Council meeting was whether to proceed with WHOIS studies. Four studies have been proposed to study WHOIS and provide data for potential future amendment and reform: WHOIS Misuse Study, WHOIS Registrant ID Study, WHOIS Proxy and Privacy Abuse Study, and WHOIS Proxy Relay and Reveal Study. These studies are designed to provide concrete data regarding the extent of malicious abuse of WHOIS, and provide an inventory of WHOIS service requirements. Representatives of registrar and registry groups requested a delay of one meeting before bringing the motion to conduct these studies to vote. This request was granted.

Tim Ruiz, Council registrar representative for North America, denied that registrars are against changes to WHOIS, but remained skeptical that taking the time and money to conduct these studies is the correct course of action. Mr. Ruiz stated that since it is already known that “bad guys” use privacy and proxy WHOIS services to conduct illicit activity, why use the money for studies to figure out just how many there are instead of immediately combating the problem? Public response to Mr. Ruiz was heated; the problem with not completing these studies is that down the line, when WHOIS policy changes are being developed, lack of data will hinder proportional response to the problem, and allow registries and registrars to advocate a less aggressive approach to WHOIS reform.

A second topic of contention was amendment to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA). Mary Wong, representative of the Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group for Asia-Pac and Vice-Chair of the Non-Contracted Parties House of the GNSO Council, raised a motion that would, among other things, allow for “observers representing the interests of affected non-parties to the agreement” attend negotiations between registrars and ICANN. 

Jeff Neuman, Council registry representative for North America, gave a prepared statement in response to the motion on behalf of the registry and registrar stakeholder groups. The statement emphasized the registry and registrar groups’ view that this motion undermines processes put in place in the original RAA, and contracted parties have the right to enjoy stability and consistency in agreements. Mr. Neuman argued that adding observers would only serve to complicate the agreement negotiation process, and would likely lead down a slippery slope to observers of all contracted parties’ meetings. Registries and registrars are the only impacted parties through the RAA, and therefore the “picket fence” delineating areas of consensus policy versus contracted party negotiation should not be moved.

In response to the prepared statement, Non-Contracting members of the Council stated that ICANN, as a self-governing, self-regulating, multi-stakeholder model, should involve all parties. Registries and registrars are not the only members of ICANN, argued representatives for commercial and non-commercial groups. Especially regarding the RAA, there is really no such thing as an “affected non-party” because everyone is affected by registry and registrar accreditation. Furthermore, the motion only provides for non-contracted party observers to the negotiation, not active participation in the negotiating process. The presence of observers offers a chance for increased transparency in the negotiation process, as well as allowing registries and registrars to have a better understanding of community positions on the RAA.

The motion was put to vote in the Council following the discussion. In order for any motion to pass the GNSO Council, a simple majority in both the Contracted Party House and Non-Contracted Party House is necessary. The Contracted Party is comprised solely of representatives of registrars and registries. This motion did not pass, as only one member of the Contracted Party voted for the motion, while all members of the Non-Contracted Party voted in favor.

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