ICANN approves its bylaws including commitment to respect human rights ahead of June meeting in Helsinki

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23 Jun 2016


The Internet started as a closed network, run mostly by academics and funded by the US Department of Defense. It spread across the world during its commercialization in the early 90’s. It is now an open and global network of networks, and one of the most important media for enabling human rights, including the right to freedom of expression. Which is why the recent approval of the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) bylaws by its board, as well as the approval by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the proposal to transition the current role played by the US government in the coordination of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS) to a global multistakeholder community, are so important.

These recent developments are bringing ICANN – which performs several crucial technical Internet functions - a step closer to mirroring the Internet’s global nature and fulfilling its responsibility to respect human rights.

On May 27, the ICANN board officially approved its new bylaws, including a commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights. This means that ICANN’s commitment to respect human rights is now an integral part of the way it governs itself. This is a great step forward, one which ARTICLE 19 and the ICANN community have been advocating for over the last two years. It is also a logical one, looking at the history of the development of the Internet, which saw it develop from an academic experiment to a public commons.

However, we are not there yet. Section 27.2 of the bylaws reads: 

"(a) The Core Value set forth in Section 1.2(b)(viii) shall have no force or effect unless and until a framework of interpretation for human rights (“FOI-HR”) is (i) approved for submission to the Board by the CCWG-Accountability as a consensus recommendation in Work Stream 2, with the CCWG Chartering Organizations having the role described in the CCWG-Accountability Charter, and (ii) approved by the Board, in each case, using the same process and criteria as for Work Stream 1 Recommendations. (b) No person or entity shall be entitled to invoke the reconsideration process provided in Section 4.2, or the independent review process provided in Section 4.3, based solely on the inclusion of the Core Value set forth in Section 1.2(b)(viii) (i) until after the FOI-HR contemplated by Section 27.2(a) is in place or (ii) for actions of ICANN or the Board that occurred prior to the effectiveness of the FOI-HR."

This means that, in order to operationalize ICANN’s commitment to respect human rights, the community will need to develop a “Framework of Interpretation” as part of Workstream 2 – the work after the IANA transition is finalized - to guide the implementation of the human rights commitment, which will start at the upcoming ICANN meeting in Helsinki June 27 - 30. Once the Framework of Interpretation is in place, ICANN will be able to fully develop a human rights policy to live up to its promises. ARTICLE 19 is currently preparing for the upcoming meeting in Finland, where Workstream 2 will commence.

The approval of the bylaws is not the only exciting ICANN-related news in the past weeks. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye explicitly mentioned the importance of ARTICLE 19’s work at ICANN, especially our push to mainstream human rights and operationalize human rights in Internet governance to fulfill the promises made under the WSIS and the NETMundial Initiative. Additionally, the ICANN board has also agreed to the final proposal for the transition of the IANA functions, which was then presented to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the agency within the US Department of Commerce currently responsible for the IANA functions.

The NTIA issued its assessment report of the transition proposal on June 9th. In the report the NTIA stated that "the IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal meets the criteria necessary to complete the long-promised privatization of the IANA functions." The NTIA also looked at the recommendations developed by the Cross Community Working Group (CCWG) on Enhancing ICANN Accountability, and said that "the accountability recommendations are consistent with sound principles of good governance that reflect the unique and important mission of ICANN within the Internet ecosystem.”

The next step in the transition process requires the US Congress to approve the proposal put forward by the ICANN community, preferably before the expiration date of the IANA functions on September 30, 2016. Although there has been some push-back from certain Republican Senators, we are optimistic about the ability of ICANN and the NTIA to move the proposal forward in a timely way.

The NTIA assessment report, combined with approval of the bylaws and the positive reaction by the UNSR to ARTICLE 19’s work, strengthens our conviction that, together with the ICANN community, we can develop a strong Framework of Interpretation, and move the discussion on human rights in ICANN forward.


You can find more information about the Cross Community Working Party on ICANN's Corporate and Social Responsibility to Respect Human Rights (CCWP-HR) work here, you can follow the ICANN meeting in Helsinki remotely here, or on Twitter by following @conflictmedia.



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