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Is NTIA’s Transition Decision the Right Dose of Chemotherapy to Repair Trust in Multistakeholderism

On March 14 2014 the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intent to Transition Key Internet Domain Name Functions to the global multistakeholder community.

Proper, transparent, accountable U.S. NTIA’s Transition of its oversight of the Internet to something other than a single country oversight is something I have always believed in and spoke and written about repeatedly for years and is long overdue. But NTIA’s March 14th declared intent to transfer “Key” Internet roles is not only very ambiguous but leads to new questions and concerns that must be answered before anything starts taking place. At the very least The NTIA’s declaration is a calculated doze of chemotherapy to repair “Trust in Multistakeholder and current Internet Governance models” that were never ready for prime time in the first place but which have been seriously damaged by the ripples of the US NSA spying scandals uncovered by the Snowden revelations.

To begin, the U.S. Government NTIA’s announcement of its intent warrants congratulations to ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehade because it reflects US confidence in Fadi’s stewardship in contrast with previous ICANN leaderships. I say this having taken lead for years on many critical topics like Internet oversight inside and outside ICANN and while they were not mainstream or politically popular. In fact in some cases they were embarrassing/contradictory to ICANN’s declared PR statements. ICANN and the community will recall very well how previous ICANN leaderships shied away from my many public challenges on this and other tough topics I put to them so that we can all collectively better serve the Global Public Internet. So why are congratulations to Fadi in order many might ask? The answer is regardless of what will transpire in the future, at the very least Fadi dared to walk where others before him feared to tread—this is leadership. Nonetheless, celebrations are still premature and hard work and even harder questions must be asked and answered first, and only clarity on these questions will do moving forward.

First, for those especially in the ICANN political power base still living in denial that no link exists between US government, ICANN, Multistakeholderism, Internet Governance and the NSA spying scandals revealed by Snowden, I suggest they open their windows and let some oxygen in while they pay close attention. The founding ethos of democracy, freedom of expression, transparency, openness on and off the internet, and especially in the Multistakeholder and Internet Governance models enshrined and advocated by current and all previous US administrations and preached to the world at the UN, WSIS, WCIT, IGF, ICANN, Arab Spring (Autumn now) and today at the Ukraine and everywhere in the world, and now reconcile this with the US NSA’s hands caught in the cookie jar with The NSA surveillance and spying scandals revealed by Snowden.

Hard questions that must be answered first.

Moving forward, my initial hard questions, with more to follow, that need answering by ICANN, the NTIA, and in some instances by both, are:

  1. Who is the “global multistakeholder community” the NTIA is referring to? Does it exist yet? NTIA’s cannot mean ICANN’s interpretation of Multistakeholderism now or by 2015? Do they?
  2. If a new and enhanced democratic, representative and above all legitimate internet governance format is aimed for (is it NETMundial?), how will this transition get the “BUY IN” of the world’s Internet community and their users, half of whom today are in Asia, not US, north America or Europe?
  3. What is the value of any transition of IANA or any “Key” Internet resources from US NTIA’s oversight if the Internet and users all over the world remain subject to US treasury’s OFAC and SDN lists which are intricate components of the governance ICANN’s new gTLDs, hence the New Internet, and the newly born Multilingual Internet Ecosystem, if OFAC and SDN remain unchanged, or unaffected?
  4. How will the next multi-billion Multi-lingual Internet users, majority of whom will be citizens of emerging markets, economies and sovereign nations, be factored in democratically, representatively and above all legitimately to secure their BUY IN?
  5. Under what and under whose legal jurisdiction will ICANN be after this transition? Its own? And under what and under whose legal jurisdiction will this new multistakeholder oversight body be? ICANN board’s or one of its committee?
  6. What will the new process the NTIA called for ICANN to convene and to conduct look like? Who will be the players invited to add to what ICANN already has in place and which is currently still inadequate to deliver on its current tasks at hand let alone deliver on the NTIA’s call?
  7. How representative, transparent and accountable will this NTIA call and proposed process be? Will it continue in the ICANN tradition that brings in the usual suspects playing musical chairs / roles in ICANN’s governance? Will that deliver such “BUY IN” from the global community?
  8. Will the criteria of qualification of “safe hands” continue as the undeclared profiling by ICANN’s political power base as to who is in and who is not included? Will new “Safe hands” be brought in to induct in the “Church of ICANN’s Multistakeholderism” varied by differing color, creed and religion to showcase diversity, lured in by traveling to great location around the world to attend ICANN events at ICANN’s expense to sing the hymns of Multistakeholderism old and new? Will the practice of hand picking new “safe hands” who will be expected, of course, to do some “boat rocking” to show substantive debate is taking place but not too much boat rocking that would cause the boat to alter from the course set for it, or tilt and sink it?
  9. Has ICANN matured enough and is it now “conflict of interest free” at all levels to deliver on NTIA’s call to deliver this “BUY IN”?
  10. Last but not least, how will serving the Global Public Interest, which was not invoked once in the ICANN or NTIA communiqués, be achieved if ICANN moves forward on the NTIA’s call while these grave concerns remain unaddressed?

Is NTIA’s intent the right dosage of chemotherapy to fix the Cancer scare dealt to Trust in Multistakeholderism by the NSA Spying scandals/Snowden Revelations?

Only when the list of questions above are addressed or clarified by ICANN can we know if this is a mere smart tactic by the US to buy time and serve its own political interests of deflecting the damage caused by its NSA scandals at NETMundial and beyond.

Meanwhile, we can speculate if it is the right dose of chemotherapy that will repair the deep damage to trust in Multistakeholderism, ICANN’s Multistakeholder model and the current Internet Governance format cancered by the NSA spying scandals. Only then will we know whether the chemotherapy dosage is enough, if follow up courses of chemo will be needed, or if the patient is terminally ill, or indeed, confirm that this is a tactic timed to serve US and ICANN political interests as has been historically the case.

Alarmingly, nowhere in all what I have read and seen from ICANN’s side since the NTIA’s announcement or in the NTIA’s announcement itself was serving the Global Public Interest ever invoked. Did I blink?

Despite all my concerns, this is a great opportunity that must not squandered. I hope this is a genuine effort by the US and the new ICANN infused by Fadi’s leadership rendering it able to respond genuinely first and effectively second. The litmus test is in how ICANN’s responds to these challenges I laid out and the deeds it shows in tackling them before we all convene at ICANN Singapore less than one week away and at Brazil’s NETMundial next month.

The aggregate of all of the above will help determine if this is real or just Memorex.

By Khaled Fattal, MLi Group Chairman & Survivability News Publisher

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These are very good questions Khaled. Would Constantine Roussos  –  Mar 17, 2014 7:38 PM

These are very good questions Khaled.

Would be interesting to know what the answers to these questions are. Would be insightful to get some clarifying answers that is for certain.

Constantine Roussos

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