Will ICANN Be The Next International Organisation In Geneva?

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During a visit to France last week, Fadi Chehadé, the CEO and president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), announced that his Board of Directors has given him the green light to further explore reforms of ICANN. Among them is the possibility of creating a parallel ICANN international structure, likely based in Geneva.

ICANN, headquartered in California, is the technical oversight body for the internet domain name system. It is an independent, stakeholder-driven non-profit corporation that works under a memorandum of understanding with the United States Commerce Department, and has sometimes been seen as US-centric. Geneva is home to the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU), viewed by some governments as a more neutral venue for internet governance discussions, and by others as a sort of rival to ICANN.

A resolution of the ICANN Board from 17 February created presidential advisory groups [pdf] established to work on five issues. One advisory group will explore the idea to “Establish complementary parallel international structure to enhance ICANN’s global legitimacy.” Although the document does not refer to Geneva, Chehadé in several talks during his visit in France strongly referred to that possibility.

In a hearing before the French Senate on 21 February (video in French), he stated that ICANN opened an office in Geneva the week before. Then he said that it does not have the legal structure that it should, as it is an NGO and ICANN should think about having a more international structure.

Interviewed by France Culture radio program “Place de la toile” [program in French] on 22 February, Chehadé explained that he would like to see the creation of a parallel structure for ICANN under the Swiss legal system. He outlined that it is important for ICANN to start being accepted around the world as an international organisation like the International Red Cross, which exists for the public good and has particular protection and a statute under Swiss law. He emphasised that ICANN is a multi-stakeholder organisation and must remain so. Among its stakeholder groups is the intergovernmental Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), along with many business groups.

This proposal fits into a broader effort by ICANN to evolve and become more globalised, more open and more accepted, he said. Others advisory groups will deal with issues like enhancing and extending commitments to the global multi-stakeholder community, including governments; enhancing the global recognition and effectiveness of ICANN decision-making processes and structures, including the GAC; internet governance; and the IANA and root server systems. IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is important because it has responsibility for making the actual changes to the domain name system.

Theresa Swinehart, ICANN senior advisor on global strategy, in a video published on the ICANN website explains that the creation of these advisory groups is not a top-down process. Rather, it is a good opportunity to engage in a dialogue between Board members and the community, in particular during the next ICANN meeting in Singapore to be held on 24 March. Feedback on what results from the discussions will be examined at the ensuing ICANN meeting scheduled for June in London.

Maëli ASTRUC is an intern at Intellectual Property Watch. She has a Master’s Degree in International Law from Aix-en-Provence University and a LL.M from Ottawa University. During her studies, she developed a high interest in intellectual property issues in particular related to agriculture and traditional knowledge.

William New contributed to this story.


Maëli Astruc may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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