CDT: ICANN Should Cool Its Jets On Elections

The board of directors in charge of the organization that
runs the core functions of the Internet's address system needs to take
its time to handle its leadership elections process correctly, rather
than rushing to decide how it will be done at this week's meeting in
Cairo, Egypt, said a representative of the Center for Democracy and
Technology (CDT) today.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)
board of directors is meeting in Cairo to, among other things, firm up
how it will run its elections process, to meet with its three
supporting organizations and to hear proposals about the introduction
of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and the disposition of existing
country-specific domains.

The various ICANN constituencies met today in a mainly pro forma
session to establish how the other three days of the meeting will
proceed. The Domain Name Supporting Organization (DNSO) is expected
to meet tomorrow, along with the Government Advisory Committee
and the Names Council. The board will interact with the public on
Thursday, and take election action on Friday - the public will be able
to observe Friday's proceedings, but not participate.

Speaking from Cairo, CDT Counsel Alan Davidson said that the board of
directors - who are supposed to fill interim slots only - wants to
determine the election process quickly because "ICANN is making very
important decisions already...(and) recognizes that its credibility in
making these decisions suffers without some sort of election."

Davidson's comments come after the CDT and Common Cause released
a report that said the election process could allow the body to be
"captured" by individual governments or special interests.

ICANN is supposed to elect nine at-large members to its 19-member
board, and in theory, all Internet users are eligible to join the
membership that will elect those at-large members.

Davidson said that the board of directors should not use a
postponement of deciding on the process as an excuse to keep the
elections at bay, adding, "It's not an election that should wait for
years, but if waiting a few months will make it a significantly better
election, it's something we ought to consider."

The CDT/Common Cause study was commissioned under the same
Markle Foundation grant that funded the development of ICANN's
at-large membership. CDT and Common Cause were charged with
examining ICANN's plan to develop a membership base - to be made up
of several thousand Internet users from around the world - from which
the nine board members would be selected.

One of the chief problems with the plan, according to the study, is that
while tens of millions of Internet users are eligible to become
at-large members, only a few thousand are expected to sign up.

Although the at-large membership is open to anyone with e-mail and a
verifiable physical address, ICANN is prepared to go forward with the
election after signing up as few as 5,000 at-large members.

"There's something wrong with that picture," said Charles Costello,
director of the Democracy Program at the Atlanta-based Carter
Center, which plans to monitor the at-large member council elections.

The anemic expected turnout, combined with the stringent geographic
diversity requirements included in the election plan, could allow small
cabals formed by special interest groups or foreign governments to
seize substantial control of ICANN board, the CDT claims.

Another major concern raised in the report has to do with the indirect
nature of the at-large elections. Under the ICANN plan, the at-large
membership will directly elect an 18-member at-large council, which
will, from its own ranks, select nine individuals to serve on the board.

Davidson also said that many Internet users also may not be aware of
what ICANN's core functions are and are not.

On the issue of g-TLDs, the board will discuss whether ICANN should
adopt new top-level domains, and what they should be, though a
decision is not expected at the meeting. While many intellectual
property interests do not want to see new TLDs, because the potential
profusion of new domain names that they may have to lay copyright or
trademark claims against, many non-commercial groups want to see
new TLDs, with Ralph Nader in particular suggesting terms like .sucks
and .complaint.

The issue of country sovereignty versus ICANN supervision likely will
arise as well, especially over the extent to which ICANN can mitigate
the control that some countries have over their individual domains
like .au, .uk, .de or .pt.

An executive summary of the CDT/Common Cause report is available
at Internet users can join the
ICANN at- large membership at

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