ICANN Ombudsman Blog Creating Dialogue Affirming Fairness

March 3, 2015

Ombudsman Own Motion Investigation into EIU Community Evaluation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris LaHatte @ 7:50 pm

On the 20th January 2015 the Board Governance Committee of the ICANN board passed a resolution as follows:-

“Ombudsman’s “Own Motion” Investigation – The BGC discussed and considered the ICANN Ombudsman’s request for authorization to undertake his “own motion” investigation on the New gTLD Program’s Community Priority Evaluation (“CPE”) process. Consideration of, and authorization for, Ombudsman’s “own motion” investigations is within the BGC’s scope of responsibilities under its Charter. The Ombudsman has advised that he has received a number of different complaints about the CPE process. Because the filing of an Ombudsman complaint triggers a stay on the status of other applications in the same contention set, the Ombudsman has suggested that it would be appropriate for him to undertake his “own motion” investigation into the issues raised in these complaints as well as the overall CPE process, rather than continue investigations on individual complaints, so as to limit interference with individual applications. The BGC voted to authorize the Ombudsman to proceed with the “own motion” investigation he has proposed on the New gTLD Program’s CPE process.”

So at first instance I want to make the community aware that I am commencing the investigation. I want to hear from all of those affected by the Community Priority Evaluation process, including those who are satisfied with the process and those who were unhappy with what happened. I have already talked to the ICANN team involved with this, who have been very helpful. I also intend discussing this with the EIU team to ensure that their perspective is considered. I would be happy to receive submissions from anyone who has an opinion about the process. At present I am in an information gathering phase and want to absorb as much detail. Please contact me at ombudsman@ICANN.org. If you want to make an anonymous contribution, your details will be protected by me. Ombudsman confidentiality will apply to all discussions unless you are happy for them to be made public.
I will make a preliminary report by the end of April, provided I have sufficient information by then of course.

January 14, 2015

NamesCon 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris LaHatte @ 12:15 pm

First-timer perspective from NamesCon 2015

NamesCon 2015 is nothing like the thrice-yearly ICANN meetings I am accustomed to, but that is partly why I chose to go this January. Outreach is an important part of my job as ombudsman for the ICANN community, and being available to members outside of the ICANN meetings is one way I try to build trust and credibility.

Where ICANN meetings were filled with discussions of processes and policies, NamesCon was very market-driven and sales-oriented. The action at this Las Vegas-based domain industry conference was in the corridors and one-on-one meetings, where deals were being made hourly. Quite the striking difference from ICANN, where you find most of the action within the different working group sessions and meetings, and the outcomes are policy recommendations not sales. The NamesCon auction of domain names on the second-to-last day was downright exciting, bringing such impressive prices for names like carauctions.com ($95,000).

Networking is a huge part of the NamesCon draw. Organizers said the conference was designed primarily to educate and connect website developers, online marketing and search professionals, and small to medium business owners with industry players. For me, it was an opportunity to talk to those involved in the domain industry about my role as an independent, impartial and neutral party who can help resolve issues or complaints about unfair treatment or a particular Board, community or staff decision, action or inaction. Part of my communication was to stress what I cannot do as well. For example, I do not investigate complaints between domain holders and registrars, although I do provide self-help information to those in disputes not related to ICANN.

Needless to say, attending a domainers’ event is new territory to this ombudsman, but the people I met were open and interested in what I do. I encouraged everyone I encountered to get more involved in ICANN policy discussions, as these have a direct impact on their businesses and livelihoods. This idea was echoed by several speakers as well, including Akram Atallah, ICANN’s President of its Global Domains Division, and Fiona Alexander, associate administrator of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. (The NTIA is the agency that holds the IANA contract with ICANN.)

With just a few weeks until ICANN 52 in Singapore on 8-12 February, I am looking forward to seeing many of you in the meeting rooms and in the hallways. Please drop by my office at any time for a confidential discussion.

November 2, 2014

Association for Conflict Resolution annual conference Cincinnati October 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris LaHatte @ 3:19 pm

I received a lovely thank you letter for my presentation

 

Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) – www.acrnet.org
ACR International Section – http://acrinternational.polisci.txstate.edu/
October 31, 2014
Chris LaHatte
Ombudsman
ICANN
Dear Chris,
On behalf of the International Section of the Association for Conflict Resolution, we wish to thank you
for your invaluable contributions to the success of International Day at the Association for Conflict
Resolution’s 2014 annual conference in Cincinnati on October 10, 2014.
We are fortunate to have had someone of your professional expertise and credentials address our
group and deliver such an outstanding presentation. We received great feedback about your
presentation, peppered with Maori and the inspiring egalitarian ideals of ICANN. We learned so much
about ICANN and your unique role as ombudsman there. It was fascinating to learn more about an
organization so central to deciding the structure of the World Wide Web.
Sincerely,
Mary Damianakis
Chair, ACR International Section

Lee Paulson
Chair Elect, ACR International Section

October 30, 2014

ICANN: Allow individuals who have their personal names as part of a domain name to have signing authority for its resale.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris LaHatte @ 7:14 pm

I have recently received a petition through change.org with the above description. I do get complaints from time to time from individuals who find that their own names, sometimes unique to them, have been used by someone for cybersquatting. When the person seeks to use the name the registrant will often offer to sell at a substantial amount. Most individuals then use a variant or walk away. But I have had a number of complaints where individuals have been stalked by people who registered a domain name in their name. Of course the market for domain names is wide open, and individuals are free to register whatever names they want. That is the choice of the community, and I need to explain to the affected people, that if they want to change this, they would need to start a policy development process.

Of course of the individual has been prudent enough to register a trademark in their name, then the UDRP process is available, although of course at some cost. But often when someone becomes well-known because of their subsequent achievements, this will not occur to them. It can be frustrating as the ombudsman to see exploitation like this, which is unfair. It is regrettably out of my jurisdiction, and can only be changed through a proper policy development process.

 

September 22, 2014

Sexist Behaviour at Meetings

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris LaHatte @ 8:59 pm

One of my responsibilities as the ombudsman is to be a contact point for diversity issues. This is particularly important now that ICANN has become a global organisation. Respect for diversity does extend beyond different cultures, races and other difference. It includes respect for gender in the wider sense now used. Internet organisations and indeed anything to do with computer hardware and software has been a male dominated culture for many years. This has gradually changed, although ICANN itself still has to achieve equality of women and men on its board. The executive positions are also improving in terms of equality. And with only anecdotal evidence, in my 3 years attending ICANN meetings, there do seem to be more women actively involved within the community.

I do get complaints about sexist behaviour from time to time. To date I have not had to deal with these in a formal way, because often discussion and explanation can achieve more. Consensus building is a fundamental part of ICANN culture, and so when problems arise I try to approach these from the perspective of increasing awareness and sharing of the difficulties which may have been caused, so the parties understand why there may have been offence caused.

I have had a more recent complaint about a remark best described as flippant in connection with a discussion list about a new project. The initial comments were regarded as harmless, but as often happens when something witty or frivolous is dropped into a discussion, sometimes the comments are then taken too far, as happened in the example, which arrived in my office. I do not want to be seen as a policeman for the politically correct positions on such an exchange. But we do need to be aware that some are more sensitive than others and can take offence. Of course the rules of polite discourse published by ICANN apply to all our community. My predecessor Dr Frank Fowlie wrote about this here- https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/respectful-communication-2012-02-25-en, and also refers to the ICANN Expected Standards Of Behavior, which are also set out on that site. As we approach the Los Angeles meeting, it may be useful to reflect on this. I have heard this may be our largest meeting ever, and hopefully our most diverse in every sense. And with the broadening of the community, tolerance and understanding will grow.

September 17, 2014

Regional Internet Registries

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris LaHatte @ 9:22 pm

The ICANN supporting organisations are a rich and complex mixture. The Address Supporting Organisation (ASO) and the five regional Internet registries are an important part of this picture. Probably the best-known part of the current work is the allocation of the IVP4 numbers although this is of course only a part of the work. They have a memorandum of understanding with ICANN, which describes their responsibilities including global policy development, becoming involved in selection of individuals to serve on other I can bodies including the board, and selecting ICANN board seats 9 and 10. In addition they provide advice to the ICANN board on number resource allocation policy, in conjunction with the regional Internet registries.

Historically the ASO and the regional registries have not been frequent visitors of the office of the ICANN ombudsman. I am unsure whether this is because they achieve a good level of consensus decision-making and policy development, which is likely, but possibly affected by the ombudsman not visiting the Council and the regional registry meetings to work on outreach. It has been suggested that I should attend the regional meetings, so that the community does become aware of the role of the ombudsman. Issues such as allocation of number resources, particularly when these are coming to an end for IVP4, do have the potential for disagreement and dispute. As part of the accountability function, my office would need to be available if such issues arose. I would be interested to hear from the community as to the input which I could give to the regional Internet registries. You can comment on the usual way to this blog or email me direct at ombudsman@ICANN.org.

September 15, 2014

IGF at Istanbul-Extract from session

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris LaHatte @ 4:11 pm

This is what I said at the IGF

ROBIN GROSS: Thank you. Our next speaker is Chris LaHatte the ICANN Ombudsman.

CHRIS LAHATTE: Thank you Robin. I am really meant to be the first place you go to if you have a difficulty with the organisation. The role is structured within the ICANN organisation. So in terms of governance and accountability I’m here for the community making recommendations to the board and as Avri pointed out that can sometimes have the impact of a wet bus ticket. However, and the few times that I have had to make a recommendation they see ‑‑ the board has accepted what I have suggested.

The Ombudsman office has been looked at rather carefully and more recently in the ATRT, too, and it is proposed that the scope of the office be increased somewhat because of a need for further accountability structures. I’m not sure it is entirely appropriate for me is the present holder of the office to advocate for changes which could conceivably be seen as some form of empire building but I would be very interested to hear from the community as to specific ways in which the use of my office can enhance accountability.
Now there are a number of different aspects which have been suggested in ATRT, too. There have been some comments about it but not a great deal of debate. It is not the sort of issue where I really want to tell people what I think. I’m very interested in a bottom‑up movement for these are the sorts of things that I should be doing or doing in addition to what I’m already doing.
So while my principal role is expressed as dealing with issues of fairness and of delay, that is gradually come to encompass issues such as diversity, challenges, and that sort of thing as well. Increasingly issues such as privacy, the lack of it, or the protections around privacy have also started to be raised. Issues like access to documentation are also important and that’s a mechanism, of course, for ensuring transparency and accountability within ICANN itself. As it happens under my bylaw I have access to everything. My bylaw says that if I request a document from any member of the community they should give it to me.
If they say no, I’m not quite sure what I would do then, but I would certainly make something of a fuss if I regarded that as critical. So my role really depends on the ability to persuade people. It has been described as moral persuasion rather than the ability to say ICANN, you should be doing this or you must do this.
And that’s pretty typical for an Ombudsman. An Ombudsman has the power to tell people to do things. Even the national Ombudsman don’t actually have the power to do much except generally the same sort of power that I have which is to order that information be provided. The rest of it is all recommendations.
So the range of what I do in the new era is something that I’d like the community to think about is what I am doing a wide enough scope, should it be more narrow. And I’d like to hear from people because as Avri said accountability wasn’t really discussed terribly much when I first started doing this and it is really only in the last year and particularly more focused with the IANA contract issue that people have started to say well, how else do we ensure that there is somebody to answer to. So we are in a brave new world and with that I welcome contributions.

June 30, 2014

ICANN Meeting Issues

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris LaHatte @ 6:25 pm

At the ICANN 50 meeting the space available for meetings was very limited, partly because of the nature of the venue but also the extraordinary number of registrants. One of the results was that there was pressure on the space which was available. One of the groups which had a presentation was caught short when an earlier group ran late in their presentation. This group complained to me that when they also ran over time, the end of the meeting was somewhat disrupted by the third and following group insisting on the meeting coming to an end so that they could start. I had a discussion with the people from ICANN who were supervising groups for the sessions. They observed that it is very important to began to wind up the meetings about 10 minutes before the due time for close, to avoid this situation.As a result of talking to all of the people involved I also gained the impression that there was some cultural clash between the different groups, which could have been interpreted as rude or disrespectful. Certainly in my experience, in some cultures, interrupting in this way would be seen as disrespectful. Other cultures would also however regard running late as also disrespectful. As ICANN grows to a global organisation, we do need to keep our cultural antennae attuned to these cultural differences.

There is no action which I need to take, because the meeting is now over. But I am posting this to my blog so that at future meetings people can consider the pressure placed on others by running late, but also the appropriate way to intervene.We can all learn from each other in these incidents.

June 11, 2014

Respect in Communication

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris LaHatte @ 9:12 pm

When we communicate by email or by comments in a thread, we often use informal language, and occasionally may say something which subsequently causes offence. ICANN of course has a policy about expected standards of behaviour within the ICANN community which can be found at this link. In particular, there is one section which deal specifically with communication which I quote “Treat all members of the ICANN community equally, irrespective of nationality, gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, disability, age, or sexual orientation; members of the ICANN community should treat each other with civility both face to face and online”.

I have recently had a complaint about the use of sexist language in communication dealing with a policy development process. When the complainant raised the issue of the use of sexist language, she advises that initially she was told to take this to me as the ombudsman, but later members of the group attempted to talk her out of making such a complaint. Those attempts were seen by her as an attempt to bully her into letting the issue die.I am in the process of obtaining comments from the members of the group so that I can get some perspective and understand what has happened.

As ICANN matures into an international organisation, we do need to remember that robust communication in that some societies may be perceived as quite offensive in others. These issues are not simple, but in my view we are best looking at them as educational challenges, rather than engaging in a process of criticism. If one party realises that their comments were inappropriate after discussion, then we can evolve to more skilful interaction, without causing offence.

Neither sexist language or bullying should be tolerated and we need to be vigilant to ensure we do not offend. I would welcome comment from the Community on this issue, and any complaints or comments can be confidential if needed. Contact me at ombudsman@icann.org if you want to deal with confidential matters.

May 4, 2014

ANZOA Ombudsman Conference Wellington New Zealand

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris LaHatte @ 4:27 pm

I have just returned from two days at a local conference. It is always refreshing to be able to attend a useful conference in your home town, where the travel expense is my bus fare of five dollars. It is even better when the conference contains detailed and useful presentations and new learning experiences, and I am pleased to say that I also had the opportunity to meet friends and colleagues and meet new ombudsman who are relatively close to where I live.

ANZOA is an association of governmental and industry ombudsman in Australia and New Zealand. They have a biennial conference which is well attended by ombudsman and senior members of staff from most of the ombudsman offices in both countries, and there were close to 100 registrants.

The theme of the conference was “Ombudsmen rising to the challenge: What Lies Ahead? There was a conscious effort to structure the papers and presentations on the theme of looking at current issues and challenges, and what the future holds.

The conference opened, as to most important meetings in New Zealand with a traditional Maori welcome and waiata. This is particularly apt in the context of the location of the conference, at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. This museum celebrates the role of the Maori as the indigenous people of New Zealand and recognises the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi and establishing the partnership between Maori and subsequent settlers, which has come to be a founding constitutional document. In constitutional and governmental decision-making, there is often a reference to recognition of treaty principles, which can be summarised as a requirement of fair dealing between Maori as the indigenous people, and the subsequent settlers. So any concept with fairness included,makes this particularly suitable for a conference for ombudsman.

As the ICANN ombudsman I walk between the two different silos of ombudsman. At the Denver IOA conference earlier in April, I met and had conversations with organisational ombudsman, many of whom work within universities and education institutes, and also with corporate ombudsman typically from larger multinational companies. At ANZOA the ombudsman are mostly classical ombudsman and industry ombudsman, appointed by Federal or State governments and reporting to Parliaments or as the industry ombudsman typically reporting to a supervisory board from industry leaders. ICANN is different from both of these models, but I am privileged to learn from both groups. There does not seem to be much mutual understanding of what each group is doing. In Australia and New Zealand there has been vigorous protection and restriction on the use of the name ombudsman, to the extent that in New Zealand, it is restricted specifically by statute. ANZOA on its website refers to the need for protection for the name “ombudsman”. At the IOA conference, by contrast, the ombudsmen appeared to have little knowledge of institutions such as the International Ombudsman Institute based in Vienna Austria, but were sometimes passionate about the need to restrict membership of the Association to organisational ombudsman, which would exclude the classical and industry ombudsman. As a relatively new ombudsman, I struggle with the artificial distinctions which both groups draw up to exclude each other.

The theme I found was that at both conferences they are talking about many of the same issues. They have far more in common than is discussed. For example, IOA has the IOA Ethical principles

Independence

The Ombudsman is independent in structure, function, and appearance to the highest degree possible within the organization.

Neutrality and Impartiality

The Ombudsman, as a designated neutral, remains unaligned and impartial. The Ombudsman does not engage in any situation which could create a conflict of interest.

Confidentiality

The Ombudsman holds all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence, and does not disclose confidential communications unless given permission to do so. The only exception to this privilege of confidentiality is where there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm.

Informality

The Ombudsman, as an informal resource, does not participate in any formal adjudicative or administrative procedure related to concerns brought to his/her attention.

ANZOA refers to the Six Benchmarks

Benchmark 1 – Accessibility

Benchmark 2 – Independence

Benchmark 3 – Fairness

Benchmark 4 – Accountability

Benchmark 5 – Efficiency

Benchmark 6 – Effectiveness

So there are clearly many features and goals in common.

A theme of the conference was ways in which ombudsman could evolve to meet further alternative dispute resolution challenges, and meet competition from other providers. The New Zealand Ombudsman Dame Beverly Wakem concluded in her final remarks that there are initiatives to get the various groups of ombudsman to communicate better and more often.

There will continue to be different flavours of ombudsman, because each office has its own mission statement and objects. The leaders will also add their own personalities and opinions to how the office operates. But what has impressed me in moving between both groups, is the dedication, professionalism and real human concern for the visitors to our ombudsman offices. We heard from people like Simon Cohen, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman for Australia, who presented a thoughtful and humane approach to dealing with consumers and financial difficulty, and who has evolved a model which has a real understanding, both of the needs of the industry players and of the consumers. Hilary Unwin from the New Zealand Human Rights Commission gave a presentation on meeting the needs of those with disabilities and asked real questions about their access to us as ombudsman. Many other speakers made it clear they have real action for access to fairness and justice and a strong commitment to principles of human rights. I would say that the IOA members have that same commitment, albeit on different stages.

My hope is that we recognise each others differences but grow to accept the stronger goals and principles in common, which would enable us to draw from each others learning and experience.

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