International Governance

Congressional Action on ICANN Accountability

By Paul Rosenzweig
Wednesday, November 19, 2014, 11:51 AM

As readers of this blog know, the United States is in the midst of a transition that will, when completed, give up its contractual control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).  That authority is currently conducted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) under contract to the Department of Commerce.  Current plans are for Commerce to end the contract in September 2015, and let ICANN manage the IANA function on its own.  Some, including me, favor the transition but are concerned that it will occur without an increase in accountability and transparency at ICANN.  Hence, there is an interest in making sure that when the transition occurs, Commerce imposes conditions that guarantee ICANN's continued openness and independence.

I was, therefore, interested to see the Defending Internet Freedom Act of 2014 introduced by Representative Mike Kelly (R–PA) today. The legislation, is very closely aligned with the recommendations made by me and some colleagues at Heritage in a June paper on required reforms and standards for ICANN transition.  It would prohibit the Department of Commerce from relinquishing its responsibilities unless specific requirements are met and reforms are in place. Among other requirements, the Act would require bylaw changes to restrict the influence of the Government Advisory Committee, implement a process for independent resolution of disputes, make it more difficult for ICANN to increase fees, implement a transparency process at least as protective of public access as the Freedom of Information Act, and institute changes to require ICANN to respect freedom of expression and establish an independent body to review and overturn ICANN decisions that violate that requirement.

Of course, in this lame duck session, the bill is just a marker and the start of a discussion that will continue in the next Congress.  But I am glad to see that Congress is engaged.  Stay tuned for an interesting debate next year ....