ICANN Board Decisions to become More Transparent

Philip CorwinUncategorized


“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis


ICA has long been an advocate for greater transparency in ICANN operations, especially in the decision-making activities of the Board. Back in May 2012, reacting to the announcement that the Board would no longer hold decisional sessions on the final day of each of the three yearly ICANN public meetings, we published a blog titled, “ICANN Board Meetings Should be Webcast Live”. Our view at that time was:

Just because all the ICANN meetings we have attended since ICA’s formation ended with a Board meeting doesn’t mean that particular scheduling is sacrosanct. But we think it’s very beneficial for the global Internet community that ICANN serves to be able to view its decision-making process and that it’s a big plus for ICANN’s credibility and reputation to open that process to public view… Nowadays any public policy body that makes its decisions behind closed doors is going to be perceived as having something to hide… There’s a lot of U.S. DNA in the DNS. ICANN was created by the U.S. government and is a California non-profit corporation… Sessions of the U.S. House and Senate, and virtually every hearing and markup of every Congressional committee, are now Webcast in real time and then archived for future viewing.

ICANN should do no less. Every official ICANN Board meeting should be webcast in real time. When the Board is meeting telephonically then the Web audiocast should be available simultaneously. And all should be archived for future access and review. Only limited redactions should be made, such as when the Board is discussing internal personnel matters or when the proprietary and confidential information of a contracted party might be revealed, and then only if a rationale is provided. ICANN’s continued authority ultimately rests upon the consent of the networked, and in 2012 the networked expect open access to information about vital decisions with broad repercussions. And, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once observed, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Four years after we expressed that viewpoint, we’re happy to report that ICANN’s Board is finally taking a step toward meeting 21st Century expectations of information access. of At its meeting of May 15, 2016, ICANN’s Board adopted a Resolution on “Enhancing Openness and Transparencythat makes an overdue move toward providing transparency in regard to Board decision-making.

The operative portion of the Resolution reads as follows:

Resolved, the Board directs the President and CEO, or his designee(s), to work with the Board to develop a proposed plan for the publication of transcripts and/or recordings of Board deliberative sessions, with such plan to include an assessment of possible resources costs and fiscal impact, and draft processes to: (i) ensure the accuracy of the transcript; and (ii) for redaction of portions of the transcript that should be maintained as confidential or privileged.

Resolved, the Board expects to evaluate the plan in Helsinki, and if satisfactory to begin testing of the proposed processes relating to publication of transcripts and/or recordings of the Board’s deliberative sessions as soon as practicable after Helsinki.

The Rationale for the Resolution explains the Board’s reasons for adoption:

In support of the continued call for visibility into Board deliberations and processes, the Board has determined to make available transcripts or recordings, where appropriate, of the Board’s deliberative sessions. This effort to enhance openness is likely to also support the ICANN community in enhancing ICANN’s accountability, as it will reduce questions of how and why the Board reaches its decisions. This decision also directly supports ICANN’s previous efforts and the continued goal of operating as openly and transparently in its decision-making. ICANN is also acting consistently with the ICANN’s Bylaws, as set out in Article III, section 1 of the ICANN Bylaws, that, “ICANN and its constituent bodies shall operate to the maximum extent feasible in an open and transparent manner and consistent with procedures designed to ensure fairness.” 

There will be issues before the Board for which confidentiality is still required, and that may require redaction of parts or withholding of full transcripts, and it is important that the community and the Board understand how those decisions will be taken. To that end, the Board is directing the development of a plan, which would include proposed processes by which those redaction decisions for confidentiality and privilege are to be made. That plan should be developed as soon as practicable, and should be ready for Board consideration during ICANN56 in Helsinki.

In a contemporaneous blog post, Board Chairman Steve Crocker shed a bit more light on the Resolution:

We’ve all been talking about trust lately, and the workshop gave the Board an opportunity to take a hard look at what we can do to build trust between ICANN as an organization and all of its stakeholders. This is also an ongoing discussion, and one that we all have a stake in. During the workshop, we considered concrete steps that the Board could take to increase our transparency and accountability. We agreed to post the transcripts and/or recordings of our deliberative sessions and, as a result of this discussion, passed a resolution asking Göran and his team to develop a plan for the implementation of this new procedure, also making sure that we respect confidentiality, as necessary. We know there is a lot of interest in our meetings and discussions, and we look forward to reviewing Göran’s proposal in Helsinki.

We look forward to hearing about the proposed details of the transparency plan when we attend the Helsinki meeting in a few weeks – where the community will also kick off its own discussion of Work Stream 2 accountability measures, including greater transparency within every facet of ICANN operations.

Ideally, the Board transparency measures should take effect as soon as possible, and reasons for redaction should be kept to a minimum and explained in all instances. While transcripts and audio recordings are welcome steps, especially for telephonic meetings, our preference remains for real time webcasts of all physical meetings of the Board. Public portions of the agenda could be addressed first, with anything requiring redaction left for the end of the meeting.

That would let the sunlight of transparency and the electric light of the video image illuminate all future Board decisions. ICANN and its stakeholders will be better off for the transparency this change will bring to ICANN’s most important decision-making process.