ICANN Singapore Meeting Highlights Include IANA Stewardship Transition, RAA and Dispute Over .WINE

The ICANN meeting in Singapore last week started with intense discussions on the decision of the US government to transition the role of IANA to the global multistakeholder community and ended with the Governmental Advisory Committee in heated discussions over the .wine/.vin new gTLD applications where the US, Australia and New Zealand governments, among others, saying the applications should continue to be processed following legal advice while several European governments, led by France and supported by the European Commission wanting them stopped.

Along the way there were discussions over a number of issues, including the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, with most European registrars unwilling to sign up due to concerns the current RAA would breach European privacy law.

Several European registrars were exasperated with ICANN who seem to be slow to understand European privacy laws, and said they had no alternative but not to sign and fearing they would not be able to continue to operate as ICANN-accredited by the time of the next ICANN meeting in June in London. ICANN said publicly they would resolve the problem by then.

The new RAA, released in June 2013, sees more requirements on registrars to keep Whois records up to date and increased verification requirements. European privacy regulators last July said it would be illegal for European-based registrars to comply. The concerns are largely around requirements to store registrant data for two years after domain registrations expire.

How ICANN will resolve this conflict is yet to be seen. But it is seeking public comments until April 2014 on how to resolve the issue.

As expected, the announcement that the US government will transition stewardship of the IANA functions to the global multistakeholder community took up a lot of discussion time, including at the public forum on the final day of the meeting.

The consultation process has not yet been defined, but a memo is expected on 7 April, ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehadé said, that will outline the process. ICANN is determined to involve as many people as possible in the consultation with information to be made available in all six United Nations languages plus Portuguese as well as for people with accessibility issues.

This was important, Chehadé said in a press conference held on the Monday of the meeting, so as many people from as many parts of the world as possible could participate in the consultation process.

“Everyone is welcome and ICANN is committed to equal participation by all parties interested to give their opinion,” Chehadé said. “We must all be equal partners.” The consultation will be “inclusive and allow full participation.”

“This is indeed momentous,” Chehadé told the international news conference. “The decision by the United States Government validates the idea that people around the world can come together and manage a global resource that is borderless.”

But when asked what the timeline was, Chehadé was non-committal, saying that the security, stability and resiliency of the internet were more important. This was commended by many speakers at the public forum who felt that it was of utmost importance.

Chehadé reiterated this point and the NTIA’s recent comments that no transfer would take place unless the US Government is satisfied there were no detrimental impacts on the internet. However Chehadé said that September 2015, the end date for the current IANA contract, is what the organisation is working towards. But if it is not ready to happen, ICANN will ask for an extension of their contract.

Explaining the next steps in the transition process, Chehadé went on to say, “We will now take the global process launched by the ICANN community to the world. We will have meetings and consultations with the public, communities and with our fellow technical organisations, the IETF, the Regional Internet Registries, and here most importantly in the Asia Pacific region, APNIC, who will be partnering with us in getting the word out to involve everyone into that process.”

The GAC discussions at the end of the meeting appeared to be very heated, with the framing of their Communiqué taking much longer than anticipated. One delegate even left the room in a break, head in hands exasperated, saying they would do anything to swap places with someone.

In the end the Communiqué was delivered and positions were agreed between member countries. The GAC welcomed the decision of the US government to transition the role of IANA. But there were concerns with the legal advice received by ICANN that said there was no reason the applications for .wine and .vin should not proceed as well as the time taken to evaluate the GAC Objection Advice on the .amazon application.

The Communiqué noted the “GAC needs to consider the [legal advice] more fully. In the meantime concerned GAC members believe the applicants and interested parties should be encouraged to continue their negotiations with a view to reach an agreement on the matter.”

There was also a recommendation for the applications for .ram and .india to not proceed due to concerns raised by the Indian government. “The application for .ram is a matter of extreme sensitivity for the Government of India on political and religious considerations,” the Communiqué noted.

The Communiqué also reiterated the GAC advice from the Beijing meeting “that allowing singular and plural versions of the same strings could lead to consumer harm. Permitting this practice risks confusing internet users and could making users more vulnerable to deceptive practices that exploit this confusion.”

On the abovementioned issues with the RAA and Whois privacy, the GAC “will work inter-sessionally on privacy issues up until the ICANN 50 London meeting.”

The next ICANN meeting, the 50th, will be held in London from 22 to 25 June with registrations already open.