On Monday 18th March I had the privilege of listening to Professor John Uff QC talk about engineering ethics. He is a civil engineer with a specialty in geotechnics, an Emeritus Professor of Engineering Law at King’s College, London, a global authority on construction law and a Queen’s Counsel. He has served as Vice President of the London Court of International Arbitration and as President of the Society of Construction Arbitrators. I cannot think of many who are as well qualified to discuss this issue! My interest was sparked because I have been asked to comment on ethical issues from time to time. The whole concept of fairness must ultimately be based on ethical considerations, which for professionals, are often described in codes. Professor Uff was invited to address the New Zealand Institute of Professional Engineers, who extended the invitation to lawyers and members of the Arbitrators and Mediators Institute.
The reason Professor Uff was invited was the discussion of ethical duties of engineers arising from the 2 major disasters in New Zealand, relating to engineering failure. The 1st was the Christchurch earthquake and subsequent after-shocks, and the 2nd was the Pike River coal mine explosion. The fact this has caused the New Zealand engineers to reappraise the duties which engineers owed to the public as expressed in their code of ethics, and Professor Uff has written extensively on the subject.
At ICANN we do not have a formal code of ethics for the operation of the domain name system. There are a number of elements however which collectively are the start of such code. The very creation of ICANN as a not-for-profit multi-stakeholder organisation separates it from purely commercial enterprises. The existence of the office of the ombudsman to deal with issues of fairness, delay and diversity does make ICANN different, and the Ombudsman have also adopted the standards of practice for online dispute resolution. Frank Fowlie also developed the statement for respectful communication. ICANN also has similar guidelines within the communities which make up ICANN. More recently, ICANN has proposed a new draft of Registrants’ Rights and Responsibilities, which is akin to a code of ethics. I have suggested the Ombudsman should have a specific role in this code. Professor Uff did warn the meeting however, that we should not create codes of ethics as a reaction to a problem or in the case of the engineering disasters, as a response to such major calamities. Fortunately at ICANN there has not been a significant issue, except of course this draft was developed because of the new GTLD program. This is different from the engineering code issues, but is analogous because it is a reaction to the event. I am hoping there will be some debate, at Beijing and further, on the use of such a code and perhaps a wider debate.
A case management system is probably not something which attracts much discussion or interest among my readers. ICANN itself has recently moved into the use of a sophisticated project management system to assist with collaboration and planning of work. The office of the ombudsman has had a useful case management system, but unfortunately it has become somewhat outdated. So I have been spending a considerable amount of time recently in researching new systems, and evaluating the products available.
I have now had my new system approved by ICANN and also by our security team, an important element because of my need for confidentiality. I have been spending time with the vendor to create the different alternatives and tools to work with the system, which I hope will enable faster handling of complaints and better reports as to the issues which I am handling. I am incorporating within the system a project management option so that when more complex complaints are received they can be handled with appropriate templates and milestones to assist in a better product.
The interface, for people who want to lodge a complaint, will not change greatly. What I hope to achieve is a system which will enable much more information to be provided, and which will process the complaints more actively. While many of my complaints continue to be outside my jurisdiction, nonetheless they needed to be considered and appropriate referrals made to the correct place to consider the issue. I believe my visitors prefer to know quickly whether I am able to deal with their complaint or whether it has to go somewhere else.
So on the face of it nothing will have any substantial changes, but within about two months we should have a new system with greater analysis and efficiency available.
Perhaps this is not very exciting, but I am sharing this so that my visitors know that the engine is being lifted and replaced by the 2013 model. The driver remains however as the 1954 model.
It is not unusual for me to receive complaints about intemperate or rude comments made within the ICANN community. Some years ago Frank Fowlie produced a most useful paper on the subject which is now placed on my pages at http://www.icann.org/en/help/ombudsman/respectful-communication. There are of course other policies within ICANN which consider similar issues. It is quite understandable when people are passionate about their ideas and policies, that they will occasionally step over the line and send an email or make a post, which often they will subsequently regret. Sadly the nature of the Internet is that sometimes these comments become embedded and impossible to remove because they have been repeated. I suspect in a number of cases the person who made the intemperate comment greatly regrets having done so, but is powerless to remove the trail.I have been following articles about someone who deliberately chooses to make critical, controversial and often very hurtful comments, and sadly this person is located in my own country of New Zealand. Apparently he is aged eighteen. I have a certain experience with teenagers, and understand how the mouth is often engaged before the brain is placed into gear. But one of the lubricants which makes society work is respect for the views of others. Perhaps politeness is regarded as an old-fashioned virtue, and certainly my parents told me that I must be polite. In the dark ages when I was a teenager, I am sure that I did not comply with the requests to be polite. But fortunately any comments I made were not embedded in the darker interstices of the Internet. Now this young New Zealand troll has achieved notoriety throughout the world by intemperate and hurtful comments, which apparently he claims are social experiments.I expect that he is pleased with all of the attention but I rather doubt that we are to see a considered academic consideration of his experiment. I am all for strong debate. But Frank Fowlie’s paper has a continued relevance, although I doubt that the eighteen-year-old has read this in preparation for his social experiment.