In a crushing blow to the freedom of the Internet, ICANN voted Thursday to permanently close elections to its board of directors, thus clearing the way for a small group of individuals to control the entire Internet DNS system with little or no oversight or accountability.
ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names, was established in 1998 as "the non-profit corporation that was formed to assume responsibility for the IP address space allocation, protocol parameter assignment, domain name system management, and root server system management functions previously performed under U.S. Government contract by IANA and other entities."
In other words, ICANN is responsible for deciding who gets to use the Internet, and how they may use it.
Previously, the elections for 5 of the 18 members of the board of directers were performed democratically over the Internet. This allowed ICANN members, which include ISPs, DNS Registrars, technology companies, institutes of higher learning, and other concerned parties to voice their concerns in open, democratic debate. The new rules allow ICANN to appoint members to the board of directors without pesky opposition by consumer groups or the general public.
a. Eight voting members selected by the Nominating Committee established by Article VII of these Bylaws. These seats on the Board of Directors are referred to in these Bylaws as Seats 1 through 8.
b. Two voting members selected by the Address Supporting Organization according to the provisions of Article VIII of these Bylaws. These seats on the Board of Directors are referred to in these Bylaws as Seat 9 and Seat 10.
c. Two voting members selected by the Country-Code Names Supporting Organization according to the provisions of Article IX of these Bylaws. These seats on the Board of Directors are referred to in these Bylaws as Seat 11 and Seat 12.
d. Two voting members selected by the Generic Names Supporting Organization according to the provisions of Article X of these Bylaws. These seats on the Board of Directors are referred to in these Bylaws as Seat 13 and Seat 14.
e. The President ex officio, who shall be a voting member.
So the majority of the board of directors will now be selected by a "Nominating Committee", which will select 8 out of the 15 voting members of the board. This tips the balance of power so far that a group of board members appointed by the Nominating Commitee would be able to win any simple majority vote, even if the president and all other board members disagree with them.
The Nominating Committee consists of 11 members. Only one of these 11 members represents "Consumer and civil society groups", while 3 are appointed directly by ICANN, and the rest are a mix of members who represent Registrars, ISPs, and intellectual property holders. Educational interests will supposedly be represented by one of the 3 board members appointed directly by ICANN.
Karl Auerbach, one of the 5 current board members elected through popular vote, said that ICANN "is not allowing public participation." Auerbach voted against the reform, stating that "It is very much becoming a body that follows the interests of big business."
The Internet has only been used by businesses for about a decade, while public and educational institutions have been using the technology for more than twice that long.
There is still a chance that the matter will go up for review, but ICANN's procedures call for actions of the board to be reviewed first by the board themselves, then by an "Independant Review Panel" which is appointed by the board. Since only 3 of the 15 board members voted against this reform, a reversal of the decision is highly unlikely.
Following the vote to close elections, another vote was held to increase the fees that some ICANN members will have to pay to participate even marginally in the decision-making progress. This will allow ICANN, which is already under scrutiny for possible financial irregularities, to spend even more money silencing opposition.
ICANN also revealed plans to introduce 3 new top level domains, even though the 7 the organization introduced in 2000 failed to provide the diversity of domain name availability that was promised. Instead, businesses bought every available version of their domain name they could, effectively keeping the number of available names the same while lining the pockets of registrars, who in turn fund ICANN.