ICANN is considering becoming a private entity

ICANN is considering a change that would make it an private international organization, a move that could shield it from some legal liabilities

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is considering a change in the way Internet's governing body is organized that could allow it to skirt some potential legal issues.

In late March, a committee that was formed to make recommendations to ICANN related to certain strategic issues released the President's Strategy Committee Report with its findings. The committee recommends that ICANN and relevant stakeholders consider the advantages of "moving ICANN's legal identity to that of a private international organization based in the U.S."

As the committee sees it, that change would offer the organization immunities to limit liabilities.

Some onlookers are skeptical of the idea. "ICANN's new President's Strategy Committee Report makes public for the first time what insiders have been muttering about for almost a year: ICANN has a great new idea for avoiding all accountability," Michael Froomkin, a professor specializing in Internet and administrative law at the University of Miami School of Law, wrote on ICANNWatch.org, a Web site he helped found.

If ICANN were to go the route of re-classifying itself as an independent international organization, it would be on par with groups like the International Olympic Committee and Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international soccer association. That model hasn't necessarily worked perfectly, he said. "Not surprisingly, the lack of accountability at the IOC and FIFA created a climate for scandal and speculation," he wrote.

Also, the U.S. is unlikely to agree to such a change, which would essentially shield ICANN from any liability or judicial supervision, he wrote.

If ICANN does move forward with the plan, it should make sure to establish full accountability and review mechanisms, including a process for using international arbitration panels, the committee wrote. It should also consider incorporating relevant California or U.S. federal law into its arbitration process, the committee said.

The proposal comes after a decision late last year to extend U.S. government oversight of ICANN for three more years. That decision drew praise from onlookers eager to ensure that a transition to independence is smooth for the organization and criticism from those pushing for ICANN to be truly international, without the influence of any one government.

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