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.
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.
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.