[discuss] Testing "structural separation" accountability mechanism

'Andrew Sullivan' ajs at anvilwalrusden.com
Mon Sep 8 17:03:07 UTC 2014

On Mon, Sep 08, 2014 at 03:42:37PM +0000, Milton L Mueller wrote:
> > -----Original Message-----
> > 
> > 1.  ICANN in its policy-development role (let's set aside the IANA portion,
> > which mostly works) behaves responsibly.
> > 
> > 2.  ICANN in its policy-development role does not behave responsibly.

> I am impressed by the attempt to explore the logic, but amused by
> the way in which this attempt completely avoids developing any
> logical or empirical support for retaining the IANA in ICANN. Nice
> diversionary tactic, that.

It wasn't intended as a diversionary tactic.  I'm not as sophisticated
as you give me credit for.  On the contrary, I think these are the
ends of the possibly-relevant spectrum, and they provide different
directions for the development of whatever oversight or accountability
mechanisms are to end up in place.

In other words, to the extent the problems are like (1), what we
actually have is at least partly a perceputal problem.  This likely
would result, for instance, in cases where ICANN procedures eventually
produce the right result, but only after a lot of fraught, plenty of
intervention and public comment, and so on.  In other words, this case
boils down to, "They end up doing the right thing, but only if
everyone is hyper vigilant."  In this case, one has to figure out how
much of the result is in fact what we want (community involvement),
how much of it is bad (because the origanization's "instincts" aren't
well-calibrated), and how much of it is a consequence of having the
NTIA stick available.  If we could figure that out, we could design
appropriate mechanisms.  (For what it's worth, this is why I find the
super-majority-of-SOs-can-vacate-decisions idea somewhat beguiling.
It seems to offer a way to align those three things without creating a
whole new organization.)

Similarly, to the extent the problems are like (2), we need to figure
out what oversight we _actually_ want, and not just what oversight
happens to be there.  For (2) says that the oversight isn't actually
working.  Those who disapproved of the xxx. delegation, for instance,
might take this stance.  

> organization (ICANN) that has been operating two critical global
> functions (both DNS policy and IANA) with an imperfect form of
> oversight, that has left many people unsatisfed, should suddenly be
> given those functions with _no_ external oversight or no ability to
> lose the critical contract.

I am suspicious of this formulation because I think it treats ICANN as
a monolithic thing.  I'm not sure I buy that.  What strikes me as a
possibility is that ICANN internally holds the tensions that we need
to provide the necessary oversight, but only if we give such
sub-communities enough power to do it.  What isn't clear to me is
whether it is in fact possible to structure such an organization
effectively given ICANN's existing arrangements.  

It seems to me, however, that undertaking that effort is way more
likely to be successful than to create an external entity out of whole
cloth to do the work.  For to make such an external entity, we'll have
to re-do all the horse trading that has happened over the time since
ICANN was created, only in a different political environment.

> Can you explain to me in logical terms how this new structure will be:
>   a) likely to result in better performance? 

If it is possible to create the mechanisms out of communities already
acting inside or familiar with ICANN, then these "sceptical interests"
could check bad proposals earlier rather than later (owing to their
greater familiarity with the organization).  Over time, also, staff's
make-up might shift to reflect this wider power structure within

>   b) likely to result in greater legitimacy and support for ICANN decisions?

A wider base of power undergirding ICANN's decision-making capability,
including the ability to undo any decisisions if there are enough
people concerned, could easily result in greater legitimacy simply by
virtue of the greater participation.

Best regards,

A (speaking as a sometime ICANN-participant)

Andrew Sullivan
ajs at anvilwalrusden.com

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