ICANN and the Global Public Interest

ICANN tries to further define its role at ICANN 73.

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What is the “Global Public Interest,” and how should ICANN protect it?

ICANN 73 has arrived (virtually), and several of its sessions focus on the “Global Public Interest” as it applies to ICANN’s mission and core values. ICANN’s effort to better define the global public interest in the DNS creates some interesting philosophical challenges.

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Should ICANN merely act as a “Better Business Bureau” for consumers and domain industry companies? Should it be a “United Nations of the DNS,” committed to broadening representation, diversity, and universal access to the Internet? Or should it exist as an ISO-type organization, focusing on the technical standards and protocols that define and maintain a safe and stable DNS?

By formalizing what it means to work in the global public interest, ICANN hopes to make the difficult decisions ahead and balance being commercial-minded and human rights-oriented.

You could argue that it is all three. After all, during the IANA Transition, ICANN committed itself to maintaining the safety and security of the DNS, ensuring broad participation across all geographies and languages, and fostering competition and consumer choice. As these priorities compete for resources and attention, the ICANN community is looking to define the global public interest (and to determine if the term is useful at all).

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brings the implications of ICANN acting in the “global public interest” immediately to the forefront. ICANN was recently obliged to respond to a request to disable certain ccTLDs in Russia and take other actions. Goran Marby echoed the sentiments of many internet governance organizations and scholars that selectively shutting off the Internet would harm more than it would help.

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Each set of stakeholders has its opinion on prioritizing ICANN’s competing values and missions. In the domain industry, low-friction commerce and consumer protection are probably top of mind. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of other values or the views of ICANN’s other stakeholder groups. As ICANN works to build a framework for defining the global public interest, what should it emphasize?

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