Governmental Advisory Committee

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The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) is a formal advisory body providing important feedback and input for ICANN regarding its public policy.[1]

Overview

ICANN relies on certain advisory committees to receive guidance and advice related to the interests and needs of stakeholders who are not able to directly participate in the Supporting Organizations. One of these advisory committees is the Governmental Advisory Committee, which is composed of representatives of national governments from all over the world.

The GAC is an advisory committee to ICANN, created under the ICANN ByLaws. It provides advice to ICANN on public policy aspects of ICANN’s responsibilities with regard to the Internet Domain Name System (DNS). One of its most important responsibilities is analyzing ICANN's activities and policies as they might influence governments, especially with regards to the interaction between ICANN's policies and national laws or international agreements.[2]

The GAC is not a decision-making body. It advises ICANN on issues that are within ICANN’s scope. GAC advice has a particular status under the ICANN ByLaws. Its advice must be duly taken into account by the ICANN Board, and where the Board proposes actions inconsistent with GAC advice it must give reasons for doing so and attempt to reach a mutually acceptable solution. The GAC appoints a non-voting liaison to the ICANN Board. This is normally the GAC Chair.

The GAC has the duty to incorporate the diverse opinions and perspective of its members when supplying advice to ICANN, and it's imperative that its members stay informed about new Internet trends and pending policy issues. The organization is constantly looking for new members, especially those from developing countries, in order to increase global awareness, increase participation, and make sure that ICANN reflects global diversity.

GAC Structure

The GAC has more than 140 members, and three of its important organizational features are:

  • Its independent secretariat - the ACIG GAC Secretariat
  • Its organization at least three meetings on a yearly basis which are held in conjunction with ICANN's meetings.

The GAC creates different Working Groups to study and address each issue; for instance, there was a different working group for IDNs than the one for ccTLDs.[4]

Related Bodies

Other such advisory committees which are important for ICANN are:

GAC Achievements, Comments, and Advice

Over the years, GAC is proud of accomplishing the following:

  • Setting up the principles for ccTLD management and delegation;
  • Setting up the principles for public policy for delegation, introduction, and gTLD operation;
  • Setting up the principles for public policy of gTLD Whois services;[5]

The GAC has been influential with regards to IDNs as well as best practices for IPv4 and IPv6, and is an integral part of all ICANN decisions.

ATRT Final Report on GAC's Role & Interaction with the ICANN Board

The Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) was one of the four Review Teams created by ICANN to comply with the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) in the Affirmation of Commitments. The primary objective of the ATRT is to evaluate ICANN's ability to perform its duties with accountability and transparency.[6] ATRT is composed of volunteer members; 1 from both the ASO and ALAC, 2 from the ccNSO, 4 from the GNSO, 4 from governments including 2 ex-officio members, the chair of the ICANN Board and 1 or 2 independent experts. The GAC's representatives to the ATRT include Manal Ismail, an ex-officio member who is the designated nominee of former GAC chairman Janis Karklins and vice-chair of RT, Fabio Colossanti from the EU and Xinsheng Zhang from China.[7]

On December 31, 2010, the ATRT submitted its Final Report to the ICANN Board with 27 recommendations. The final report identified four areas to improve ICANN's accountability and transparency:[8]

  • Board governance, performance, and composition
  • The GAC's role, effectiveness and Interaction with the Board
  • Public input and policy development processes
  • Review mechanisms for Board decisions

Regarding the GAC's role, effectiveness and interaction with the Board, the ATRT recommended the following:[8]

  • The GAC-Board Joint Working Group needs to clarify what constitutes GAC public policy "advice" under the Bylaws by March 2011.
  • After establishing the formal context of GAC public policy "advice," the ICANN Board should develop a more formal documented process to notify and request for GAC advice regarding public policy issues by March 2011. The ATRT recommended for ICANN to be proactive in requesting GAC advice in writing. In addition, the team also recommended the development of a database to document every request and all advice received by ICANN from the GAC.
  • The Board and GAC should work together to ensure that GAC advice is provided and considered on time.The ATRT also suggested the creation of an independent review joint working group and a formal documentation process on how ICANN responds to GAC advice by March, 2011. The process must require ICANN to provide specific information in a timely manner regarding its position, whether it agrees or disagrees with GAC advice, and for both parties to find mutually acceptable solutions in good faith. The Board and GAC must also establish strategies to ensure that relevant provisions in the Bylaws are met.
  • The Board should develop and implement mechanisms to engage the GAC earlier in the policy development process.
  • The Board and GAC should work together to create and implement actions to ensure that GAC is well informed regarding ICANN's policy agenda. Both parties should also consider creating/evaluating the role and necessary skills of the ICANN Support Staff to ensure that effective communication is provided.
  • The Board is encouraged to increase the level of support and commitment to the GAC process by: encouraging member countries, particularly developing countries, to participate in GAC deliberations; providing multilingual access to ICANN records; and developing a process to identify how and when ICANN deals with senior government officials on public policy issues on a regular or collective basis to compliment the GAC process.

GAC Advice on the .xxx sTLD

On March 17, 2011, the GAC, via its Chairman Heather Dryden, reiterated to ICANN Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush that the Committee has no active support for the implementation of the .xxx sTLD. The GAC also informed ICANN that some governments might prevent access to the TLD, which could harm the global interoperability and stability of the internet. Furthermore, the Committee also pointed out the possibility that ICANN may have to assume a management and oversight role regarding .xxx content.[9] Despite GAC's position, the ICANN Board approved the .xxx sTLD during the ICANN 41 Meeting in San Francisco, on March 18, 2011.[10] The disregard for the GAC's advice in this instance provided for a number of other international entities to question ICANN's ability to successfully manage the DNS.

New gTLDs

At ICANN 42 in Dakar, Senegal, GAC raised concern that if the number of new gTLD applications published by ICANN exceeded 500, GAC members may have too little time and resources to offer advice on all applications. ICANN had stated previously that it intended to process applications in batches of 500, and in Senegal, GAC urged for clarification on these procedures, citing that different batch processes may have an impact on competition. Furthermore, GAC stressed the importance of promoting gTLD application rounds in all countries, especially developing countries.[11]

On January 11, 2012, the ninth version of the Applicant Guidebook was released one day prior to the opening window of ICANN's new gTLD program. The new version gave greater power to the GAC in forcing the ICANN Board to manually review any application that the committee found problematic. Exactly how many GAC members it would take to cause this review is vague, but it could be as little as one nation's objection. This is a significant change given that the ICANN Board had no requirement to heed any GAC objection in the previous guidebook; the board is still able to overrule any GAC objection.[12]

In January 2013, there was further clarification regarding the applicants' abilities to respond to GAC advice by submitting change requests to their applications. While official GAC Advice had yet to arrive, the GAC Early Warnings had, and ICANN Chairman, Steve Crocker, signaled that changes to applications to implement GAC recommendations "would in all likelihood be permitted", under the not explicitly defined reasons for acceptable changes contained in the applicant guidebook. While firm policy was not immedietley offered, it was a recognition of an issue that arose following ICANN 45 in Toronto, that is, if and how the applicants could change their applications to satisfy the GAC and if those changes would be binding. The latter issue, turning an applicants' proposed procedures into binding contractual agreements, is another concern for the GAC, which Mr. Crocker noted the board would discuss.[13]

Early Warnings

On November 21st, 2012, the GAC publicly issued a number of Early Warnings, wherein national government representatives signaled their potential concerns related to 200 new TLD applications that they considered controversial. This is the precursor to GAC advice, which requires consensus within the GAC, but may serve as a reliable indicator that applications with many Early Warnings will fail to see approval from ICANN.[14]

More than 240 individual GAC warnings were issued in this first instance, with 129 coming from the Australian government, 20 from Germany, and 19 from France, despite the fact that the majority of TLD applicants -- over 80% -- come from North America and Europe. The high number of Australian warnings was due to the fact that its representative, who is also the GAC Chair, Heather Dryden, issued a warning to any company that was seeking a generic word, like "cars" for example, but intending to keep registration closed to their own businesses. 100 of the Early Warnings were related to closed generic string TLD applications. Ms. Dryden also warned a number of applications from applicants such as Donuts when the string in question was related to a regulated market but not enough verification and protection mechanisms were detailed in the application. Other Early Warnings were related to market sectors, most importantly in the financial, health, and charity sectors. Specific companies were also recipients of Early Warnings, including:[14]

  • Amazon, an applicant for 76 new TLDs, received 27 GAC Early Warnings
  • Google, an applicant for 98 new TLDs, received 5 GAC Early Warnings
  • DotConnectAfrica, an applicant for .africa, received 17 Early Warnings whereas UniForum SA received none for their .africa application

The body will offer its 'GAC advice' on the applications in April 2013. The warnings are nto definitive, to not represent GAC consensus, and do not mean that any TLD that wasn't warned will not receive GAC Advice.[14]

GAC Participation at ICANN

ICANN 43, GAC-GNSO Joint Meeting

In March, 2012, the GAC had a joint meeting with the GNSO regarding the plan to extend special domain name protections for the Red Cross and the International Olympic Committee, the ongoing amendment negotiations to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, and the Human Rights Council discussion on the freedom of expression over the internet. The GAC informed the GNSO that it supports the extension of domain name protections for the Red Cross and the Olympics but that it is not a consensus view. The Committee supported the issue on freedom of expression over the internet and acknowledge the progress of the RAA and requested a timelime.[15]

ICANN 44

In September, 2012, a working group related to the European Commission sent a letter to ICANN warning that its proposed additions to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement would infringe on European Privacy laws. The issues in question are the proposals to make registrars retain data about their customers for up to two years after registration, and by the idea that registrars should re-verify contact data every year. These proposals were discussed and supported by the GAC and the law enforcement voices within ICANN at ICANN 44 in Prague. This is potentially conflicting given that the GAC supported these measures and this pan-European body is coming down against it.[16]

ICANN 45

As opposed to holding its general meetings with other supporting organizations and advisory committees within ICANN, the GAC has created more personal meeting time. This was done in an attempt to coordinate all of its GAC Early Warnings related to ICANN's gTLD expansion program. They will hold a meeting with the heads of other advisory bodies rather than the entire groups.[17]

At the meeting, the GAC signaled that it would not recommend to the ICANN Board to extensively reserve Intergovernmental Organizations' names on new gTLDs. There was some concern that the GAC would make recommendations similar to those made by the U.N. and related agencies, which call for protections of any organization on the "6ter" list of Paris maintained by WIPO, and contains 1,100 strings in total. The GAC advice calls for protections of any organization registered on the .int TLD, a little-used space for IGOs. That TLD only has 166 registrants.[18]

PICs & GAC Advice

Public Interest Commitments (PICs) as related to new gTLD applicants and the Registry Agreement they are to sign, is a term and creation directly from ICANN, first suggested on February 5th, 2013, in ICANN's revised new registry agreement that it opened for public comments.

PICs are voluntary amendments that applicants can create, sign, and undertake along with the general registry agreement in order to hold their registry operations to certain standards. They seem to originally have been developed as a way to allow applicants to appease GAC members that may be concerned about how their application stands as is, or how ICANN will be able to ensure a potential registry remains compliant with its aspirations and mandate as it defined in its summary of its proposed operations in the TLD application. As is, prior to PICs, there was no clear way of defining operating procedures when moving from the long form essays in the TLD application to the Registry Agreement.

For example, if an applicant expresses a desire to restrict registration to a certain group of professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, etc., the applicant can create a PIC to underline this and hold their future registry to that standard. If the applicant did not originally intend to create such restrictions as defined in its TLD application, but it has received communication from the GAC that the supporting organization intends to oppose their application to the ICANN Board without such language, then the PIC can be added as an appeal to those governments.

It is a controversial topic that many applicants think was created quickly, with no outside input, and is presented in such a way that they feel compelled to make a decision without fully understanding the proposal. It seems to apply to a small subset of applicants, as only 145 of 1,409 strings were flagged by GAC Early Warnings, the primary target for PICs.[19] The dispute resolution procedure, the Public Interest Commitment Dispute Resolution Process or PICDRP, has yet to be defined. Applicants were given one month, until March 5th, to submit their PICs. It seemed to conflict with other deadlines, such as the end of objection filling just a week later, so, "potential objectors would have to decide whether to file their objections based on PICs that have been published for just one week and that could be amended post-deadline."[19][20]

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé noted around the imminent closing of the PIC submission date that this issue has the potential for pushing back the receipt of GAC advice and therefore the entire TLD implementation schedule, which is tightly fixed and aiming to recommend the first TLDs for delegation by April 23rd. ICANN will not recommend TLDs for implementation without the GAC's final advice, and the GAC seems to be placing a great import on the submission of PICs, to which the applicants remain wary.[21]

ICANN 50 London

Main article: ICANN 50 - London

The GAC drafts a report to the ICANN board during each ICANN meeting, titled a GAC Communique, in which they give advice to the board on decisions involving policy and implementation. Highlights from the London Communiqué include:

  • The GAC advises the Board regarding the .africa string, saying it would like to see an expedited process, especially once the Independent Review Panel comes to a decision regarding the two applicants for the string. They reaffirm their decision that DotConnectAfrica's application should not proceed.
  • The GAC mentioned the controversy surrounding .wine and .vin, where some European GAC representatives strongly felt that the applications for these strings should not proceed without proper safeguards for geographic names at the second level. However, the GAC was unable to reach consensus advice regarding this issue and thus did not relay any formal advice to the Board.
  • The GAC requested safeguards in the New gTLDs for IGO (Inter-Governmental Organization) names at the second level, and specifically related such advice for names relating to Red Cross and Red Crescent.[22]

References

  1. GAC Definition
  2. GAC considerations, Wikia.com.
  3. GAC Retrieved 4 Feb 2015
  4. GAC working groups, apTLD.org. Published June 2007.
  5. GAC accomplishments, apTLD.org. Published 2007 June.
  6. Affirmation of Commitments – Reviews, ICANN.org.
  7. Accountability and Transparency Review Team Composition, ICANN.org.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Final Recommendations of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team, Dot-Nxt.com. Published 2010 December 31.
  9. GAC Statement on .xxx
  10. Conference summary: ICANN San Francisco
  11. GAC Communiqué – Dakar, ICANN.org. Published 27 October 2011. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  12. GAC Gets More Power to Block Controversial gTLDs, DomainIncite.com.
  13. GAC Early Warnings Just got A Whole Lot More Important, DomainIncite.comPublished & Retrieve 18 Jan 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 First Insights from the GAC Early Warnings on New Top-Level Domains, CircleID.com. Published 21 November 2012. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  15. GAC-GNSO Joint Meeting
  16. European Privacy Watchdog Says ICANNs WhoisDemands Are Unlawful, DomainIncite.com
  17. Governments to Focus on new gTLDs During ICANNs New Eight Day Toronto Meeting, DomainIncite.com
  18. GAC gives reprieve to four at risk new gTLD bids, DomainIncite.com
  19. 19.0 19.1 ICANNs New gTLD Public Interest Commitments, DomainIncite.com Retrieved 4 Mar 2013
  20. Public Comment, Base Agreement, 5 Feb 13, ICANN.org Retrieved 4 Mar 2013
  21. Application Download, PICS could be Beijing Deal Breaker for New gTLDs DomainIncite.comPublished March 4th, Retrieved March 5th 2013
  22. GAC London Communiqué (PDF) ICANN.org; Retrieved 10 July 2014