Legal Mechanisms for Governing the Transition of Key Domain Name Functions to the Global Multi-stakeholder Community

The US government has announced that it is prepared to unilaterally relinquish its historical control of the key technical functions that make up the modern-day Internet. This control stems from the foundational role played by the United States in the creation of the Internet, and has been exercised through the law of contract over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Under the existing contractual arrangement, ICANN has been accountable to the US government for the performance of these functions. However, if the US government is no longer party to this agreement, then to whom should ICANN be accountable?

This paper, from CIGI and Chatham House’s Global Commission on Internet Governance, examines the existing contractual obligations that make up many of the core tenets of contemporary multi-stakeholder Internet governance. The authors maintain that these core principles should be preserved during the changeover by, first, transitioning the existing contractual accountabilities held by the US government through the law of contract to the existing customers of Internet Assigned Numbers Authority services, creating direct accountability for the performance of those functions between the organization performing those services and the organizations using them. And second, in order to increase support within the broader community, modest revisions could be made to ICANN’s independent review process to expand the grounds of review, allowing the review tribunal to hear additional cases on a broader range of complaints, with expanded powers of administrative review of decision-making processes.