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ICANN and the Data Quality Act: Part III

This is the third part of a multi-part series reported by ICANNfocus. In this part, the focus is on how ICANN implementation of the Data Quality Act would address congressional concerns. Read previous parts: Part I, Part II.

Congress is deeply concerned by ICANN’s management and is demanding meaningful change in how the organization governs the internet. Congressional concerns regarding ICANN and Congressional oversight activities were detailed in Part II of this series.

ICANN is subject to the Data Quality Act under the provisions of the OMB and Department of Commerce/NTIA guidelines covering “sponsored information.” Thus, ICANN’s information disseminations are subject to the information quality standards, correction procedures and other requirements of the Act. However, in addition to fulfilling its legal obligation, ICANN implementation of the Data Quality Act would effectively address many of the internet governance concerns raised by Congress:

Transparency: ICANN’s decision-making processes has repeatedly come under fire from Congress. There have been bipartisan calls for greater transparency by ICANN, particularly with regard to TLD decisions. ICANN implementation of the Data Quality Act could resolve this problem as the implementing guidelines require an organizational commitment to transparency and require that “influential” information be “reproducible.”

Specifically, the OMB government-wide guidelines explain the significance of the reproducibility standard for influential information by stating, that it “is to cultivate a consistent agency commitment to transparency about how analytic results are generated: the specific data used, the various assumptions employed, the specific analytic methods applied, and the statistical procedures employed.”  (A detailed discussion of this issue may be found in a Center for Regulatory Effectiveness letter to Dr. Paul Twomey of October 29, 2003.)

The OMB language concerning transparency is quoted verbatim in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA’s) Data Quality guidelines. NTIA goes on to explain that “transparency” and ultimately reproducibility” is a matter of demonstrating how results were achieved.

Thus, if ICANN were to apply the Data Quality reproducibility standards to their TLD and other significant decision-making processes, the organization would be providing stakeholders with the transparency and predictability called for by Congress.

Redress: Congress has made clear the need for stakeholders to have a fair and impartial system for seeking redress for ICANN decisions. The Data Quality Act explicitly grants affected stakeholders the right to “seek and obtain correction of information” not meeting quality standards. The OMB government-wide guidelines provide significant guidance to agencies on establishing the petition process for stakeholders seeking correction of information as well as a system for appeals of an agency decision.

The NTIA guidelines establish specific procedures for persons seeking correction of information. The guidelines detail the information that the petitioner should provide to the agency. The guidelines also discuss the burden of proof for corrections, the methods by which the agency should take any needed corrective actions and the allowable time period in which the agency needs to act on the petition. Furthermore, the NTIA guidelines also explain the appellate procedures for petitions which are initially denied by the agency.

ICANN’s establishment of an information correction petition process consistent with OMB and NTIA guidelines would meet Congressional demands for ICANN to establish a redress mechanism.

Data Quality: Congress has clearly articulated the strong public interest in enhancing the quality of the “Whois” database. The OMB guidelines direct agencies to establish processes for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility and integrity of data prior to its dissemination. The guidelines recognize that the level of quality controls should vary based on the importance of the data and that the economic costs associated with ensuring quality need to be taken into account. The NTIA guidelines provide agency-specific definitions of key terminology as well as overview of the agency’s pre-dissemination review process.

Although ICANN cannot be expected to review or verify the specific information in the Whois database, they can and need to implement Data Quality guidelines that would set procedures and standards for ensuring and maximizing the overall quality of the database. ICANN also needs to ensure that there is a ready process for correcting information in the database. Furthermore, the data quality standards would ensure the quality of virtually all information disseminated by ICANN. Establishment of such guidelines would meet Congressional concerns regarding information ICANN disseminates and/or requires third-parties to disseminate.


1. Congress has oversight responsibilities for ICANN.

2. Congress is deeply concerned by ICANN’s governance of the internet.

3. ICANN can substantially improve its governance of the internet and meet Congressional concerns and its legal obligations by implementing the Data Quality Act.

For more information, please see, ICANNfocus.org.

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