ITU and ICANN – a loveless forced marriage
ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré has called for better collaboration between the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). "Our members have unnecessarily attacked and criticised each other and I think we should put an end to that," said Touré on Thursday at the 33rd ICANN meeting in Cairo. According to Touré, the two organisations need to get to know each other better and learn to love each other, as telecommunications and the internet are ultimately condemned to a "forced marriage".
Despite the outstretched hand, the ITU Secretary General did not spare the criticism in his first appearance at an ICANN meeting. Touré made it clear to the assembled experts that he saw his organisation as playing the dominant role in the forced marriage and made his opinion of the other party clear – provocatively describing ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee as purely cosmetic.
The depth of the chasm between the two – the UN organisation, which has its roots in the telecommunications world, and the quasi-internet-regulator ICANN – was stressed by a series of further statements in the half-hour talk given by the head of the ITU. Touré repeatedly spoke of the "war" between the two organisations. According to Touré, who was elected in 2006, "The best way to win a war, is to prevent it."
In the course of his 'marriage proposal', he referred extensively to the ITU's outstanding role. Key topics for his organisation, he noted, include the internationalisation of domains, something with which ICANN is currently engaged, the transition to IPv6, standardisation for the all-IP Next Generation Network (NGN), cyber-security, the fight against online terrorism and child protection online.
Touré rejected concerns that the ITU was appointing itself as global regulator of internet resources and processes, "The ITU has clear boundaries. We do not perform the operative business." However, he underlined the organisation's demand, set out in its Cybersecurity Agenda, to be responsible for a global framework in the fight against online terrorism and criminality. He also defended the controversial IP traceback standard proposal. "There is not one country which isn't doing it, it's just that each country is doing it differently," said Touré.
Touré also rejected criticism that the ITU operates behind closed doors. He stated that the organisation has around 700 sector members from the telecommunications industry and also admits NGOs as members. Touré also praised the ITU's openness – a nod to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The summit, organised under ITU auspices, is, according to Touré, the first UN summit at which civil society has also been invited to sit at the table, rather than demonstrating outside.
In the same breath, Touré expressed strong criticism of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which was called into being by the WSIS, "I am personally of the opinion that the IGF is continuously going round in circles and avoiding issues – it is becoming more and more a waste of time." Therefore, the ITU is planning a global forum for internet policy next year as a rival event.
Touré also fired a further undiplomatic broadside at the work performed by governments within ICANN. "The Governmental Advisory Committee is ICANN's weak point," said Touré. His criticism was directed at the advisory function of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) in developing rules for the domain name system. "If someone gives me advice, I am free to take it or leave it." The ICANN's GAC is therefore nothing more than "cosmetic", noted Touré forthrightly.
In a short statement following Touré's speech, the Brazilian government representative on the GAC demanded, in the name of his and the Argentinian government, the "strengthening of the GAC". Latvian diplomat Janis Karklins, re-elected as GAC chairman, by contrast noted that the ITU and ICANN operated according to very different political models, "From the viewpoint of an international organisation, the ICANN model may appear weak, because governments are merely advisory, whilst in an international organisation they run the show." ICANN is, he opined, based on the novel idea of collaboration between interested parties. He noted that both models have their advantages and disadvantages, and that governments need to learn to operate within both models.