Policy brief

ICANN’s Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights

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06 Feb 2015



Freedom of expression and privacy are internationally recognised human rights. This paper addresses the privacy and freedom of expression issues that arise in relation to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) policies and procedures. In particular, it explores the corporate responsibility of ICANN to respect human rights. In this sense, it seeks to develop and go beyond the Council of Europe report published in June 2014, which explored the duty of governments – rather than corporations - to protect human rights.

Moreover, unlike the purely European perspective adopted in the Council of Europe report, this paper addresses the human rights issues that arise from a global perspective in relation to ICANN’s policies and mechanisms. Taking into account ICANN’s global reach, it refers only to the international human rights documents that do not pertain to any particular continent or legal tradition. In particular, it relies on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles), known as the ‘Protect, Respect, and Remedy’ framework, which were unanimously adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2011.  

This paper sets out the UN Guiding Principles and explains their relevance to ICANN’s policies and procedures on new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) and the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA). In particular, it examines the ways in which ICANN’s standards and policies governing the ‘sensitive applied-for strings’ fall short of freedom of expression standards, and, furthermore, how the RAA provisions are in breach of data protection best practices and standards.


In line with the UN Guiding Principles and the human rights due diligence process, ICANN should:

  1. weigh the human rights impact of its policies and procedures;
  2. develop strategies to ensure that staff and other stakeholders understand this impact;
  3. develop and articulate a human rights policy, and make sure employees and other stakeholders know, understand and implement it;
  4. develop metrics to monitor ICANN’s human rights performance.


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