A member of the board of the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) brought a litany of complaints about the organisation to a US Senate subcommittee Wednesday, calling ICANN secretive and saying that it has done an end-run around basic principles of US law.
Karl Auerbach, who became a member of ICANN's board of directors in an election in October, raised many similar issues during his campaign to be elected last year. However, on Wednesday he was given an opportunity to voice his complaints publicly before the U.S Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's subcommittee on communication.
The hearing was part of a congressional examination of ICANN's selection of seven new global top-level domains (TLDs), a process completed in November with the selection of .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name and .pro. ICANN, created when the US Department of Commerce handed over the administration of the Internet's domain name system to the group in 1998, also has been criticized for the way it handled the election of its new board members.
The Senate hearing on Wednesday followed a hearing last week in the House at which ICANN came under fire from representatives of both political parties critical of the TLD selection process.
In the election, Auerbach, a researcher at Cisco Systems Inc. and founder of several Internet-related startups, defeated six other candidates, including Stanford Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig and high-tech industry lobbyist Harris Miller, for the seat representing North America on the 19-member board. During his election campaign, Auerbach said ICANN was an organization he "wouldn't trust for anything." His strident testimony on Wednesday indicated his position hasn't changed.
"Despite the short time I have been a director, I have already learned much to confirm my fears that ICANN is suffering from a lack of public process, lack of accountability, mission creep, poor communication, excessive delegation of policy making to staff and poor business practices," Auerbach said. "As a director, it is my job to work to correct these weaknesses, but I despair at the immensity of the task."
Auerbach said he believes ICANN is needed as a central coordinator of domain names and IP (Internet Protocol) addresses, but it should be an independent international body. As it exists now, "ICANN is a fruit that has fallen not far from the administrative agency that engendered it," he said. His current goals are to limit ICANN's scope of authority, create well defined procedures for fair decision making, establish solid business practices and to increase public participation.
Among the many criticisms Auerbach listed in his testimony was ICANN's ability to skirt due process and judicial review because it is not required to invite entities affected by its decisions to participate in making the decisions, he said. He added that ICANN, which is registered in California as a nonprofit corporation, is not compelled to undergo a truly independent review of its actions, and he accused the organization of being so secretive that even as a board member he often learns about its actions from outsiders.
He raised questions about ICANN's recently adopted Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy, designed to settle arguments between organizations that claim the same domain name, as an example of ICANN asserting itself in the making of an international law that supersedes even acts of Congress and that favors holders of trademarks and intellectual property.
"Under what section of the Constitution did the Department of Commerce obtain the authority to delegate this power to ICANN? I have not seen such a section and I would like to if it exists," Auerbach said.
Michael Roberts, chief executive officer of ICANN, testifying alongside Auerbach, defended ICANN's activities, saying the selection of the new TLDs was a "proof-of-concept" exercise designed to make sure the security and stability of the Internet were not compromised by the addition of new TLDs.
Echoing the same sentiments expressed in last week's House hearing by Vinton Cerf, chairman of the ICANN board, Roberts said the board has said more TLDs will be added in subsequent selection procedures.
"It has been said all along that the hardest thing that ICANN is ever going to do is make a decision on the new TLDs. There's been nothing but fighting about it for five years," Roberts said after the hearing. He said his conclusion after the two hearings was the selection process could have been done better, but he added, "Does anybody want to start over? Does anybody want to turn it around? Nobody said that. I think everybody wants to move on and find out, is there a market for more unrestricted TLDs out there?"
Roberts characterized the election of new board members as a "traumatic learning experience," saying the board "will look real hard about how to do this better the next time." He also denied that ICANN was secretive, saying it complies "religiously" with all the legal requirements, has been audited and files public financial statements.
Auerbach also suggested that Congress might have to act in the future to release ICANN from U.S. control and that could mean the U.S. will have to relinquish some sovereignty.
"I don't know the details of how we are going to achieve it... but I know we will need congressional help to do this," Auerbach said.
Roberts disagreed, however, saying he didn't believe it was appropriate for any country to have to consider relinquishing any national sovereignty.
"If the world evolves to the point where we can have a genuine transnational community of nations, if that time will arrive, ICANN absolutely wishes to stay out of that higher authority," he said.
ICANN, in Marina del Rey, California, can be reached at +1-310-823-9358, or http://www.icann.org/.