Nearly two months after the president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) called for fundamental reform of the beleaguered organization, ICANN watchers at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) conference in San Francisco Thursday continued their high-volume debate over exactly what those reforms should be.
"There's broad consensus that ICANN hasn't worked. We need to ask: Do we need this beast?" said Jerry Berman, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).
Although no one on CFP's ICANN panel suggested scrapping ICANN altogether, all agreed that radical reform is needed. The nonprofit group, which oversees technical issues related to the Internet's addressing system, has been under fire almost since its inception for ineffectiveness and failing to take broad public input into account when making decisions.
ICANN President Stuart Lynn directly addressed concerns about the organization last February when he called for a complete overhaul of the body. However, Lynn's proposal to bring more government participation and funding to ICANN and eliminate public representation on the board of directors has met with few supporters, leaving the question of how to effectively reform the organization up in the air.
"I think ICANN has been hijacked from within ... from its staff," said Susan Crawford, a partner with the Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering law firm, who has represented registries in the ICANN process.
Crawford suggested that ICANN subcontract some of its responsibilities and become a leaner organization, therefore cutting out the need for heavy reliance on government funding.
"I am hopeful that a humbler, (chastened) ICANN will show up," Crawford said.
ICANN board member Karl Auerbach was not as optimistic.
"We have too much of a shell game going on at ICANN today," said Auerbach, who suggested a reform by which ICANN would be divided into six independent parts -- three with governing policy duties and three with governing administrative duties -- in order to provide more transparency.
But while all the panelists, and most of the audience, agreed that ICANN is long overdue for reform, there have been no complete proposals put on the table to counter Lynn's, noted Peter G. Neumann, principal scientist with SRI International Computer Science Laboratory.
"What we desperately need is some fleshed-out proposals," Neumann said.