By Aarti Bhavana
In continuation of our series on CCWG-Accountability recommendations, this post examines one of the most controversial recommendation: Board Obligations with Regard to Governmental Advisory Committee Advice (Stress Test #18). Previous posts in this series can be read here. No other recommendation has seen this level of debate and compromise as Recommendation #11 has over the past year. There have been several new developments over the past few weeks, as has been traced below.
Recommendation #11: Board Obligations with Regard to Governmental Advisory Committee Advice (Stress Test #18)
The matter of GAC advice remains the most hotly debated issue in Work Stream 1, with discussions taking place as late as earlier last week. The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) has a special advisory status in ICANN, which manifests in how the Board of Directors considers GAC advice on public policy. According to Article XI of the existing bylaws, if the Board takes a decision inconsistent with any GAC advice, it must state in writing the reasons for doing so, and then work with GAC to find a mutually acceptable solution. Stress Test 18 considers a scenario where the GAC changes its decision making process from consensus to majority voting. In such a scenario, the Board would be obligated to find a mutually acceptable solution even if the GAC advice achieved only a majority of votes. To mitigate these concerns, CCWG-Accountability recommended certain changes in the previous proposal, which have since been thoroughly debated and modified for the third proposal and again for the supplemental final report.
3rd draft proposal
In the 3rd draft, it was recommended that Article XI be modified to require trying to find a mutually acceptable solution only for advice supported by a full GAC consensus, and describes consensus to mean general agreement in the absence of formal objection, be included in Article XI. This ‘consensus’ clarification was added to ensure that the Board would only have to consider advice agreed upon by the entire GAC, and not find itself caught mediating between opposing governments. This recommendation also gave the Board an option to reject GAC advice, if this decision is supported by 2/3rds of the Board. However, this would not modify GAC’s ability to give advice at any time.
Public comments indicated support for the definition of consensus provided, and the requirement that GAC advice be supported by consensus. It also raised the need for GAC advice to be supposed by a rationale. Comments also objected to the 2/3rds threshold required from the Board to reject GAC advice, while others emphasised that the current operations of GAC should not be changed.
Starting with the less controversial issues, a few clarifications were made to address concerns raised in public comments. First, it was clarified that formal advice must be accompanied by rationale, and this requirement held true for all Advisory Committees, not just GAC. Second, it was categorically stated that while GAC advice is not restricted, the Board cannot take any action that is inconsistent with ICANN bylaws. Should the Board do anything inconsistent with the bylaws (even if acting on GAC advice), the Empowered Community would have the power to initiate an IRP against the Board. This provision is intended to limit the instances in which the Board is obligated to try to find a mutually acceptable solution.
Board threshold to reject GAC consensus advice
The only other matter left to be resolved is the one that was most discussed across several calls and hundreds of emails. Opinions were split on the 2/3rds threshold required for the Board to reject GAC consensus advice, with GAC members in favour of this higher threshold, while GNSO opposed it. For some vocal members of the GAC, retaining the 2/3rd Board threshold for rejection was the only way Recommendation #11 and Stress Test 18 would be acceptable to GAC. However, GNSO members argued that the CCWG 3rd draft, as a whole, was changing the role of GAC and expanding its power. Therefore, the 2/3rds threshold was considered too high.
This difference of opinion resulted in a deadlock, and the co-chairs decided to conduct a poll among the CCWG-Accountability Members, to take stock of their position on this Recommendation. Ultimately, that wasn’t necessary, as members and participants brainstormed ideas and two major proposals gained traction in the community: One suggested reducing the threshold for rejection to 60%, but many felt that this did not address the overarching concerns about GAC’s role in post-transition ICANN. The second proposal took these concerns into account, as it suggested modifying Recommendation 2 to the effect of giving GAC a purely advisory role in situations where the Empowered Community is discussing launching an IRP to challenge Board’s implementation of GAC advice. Two special meetings were scheduled, to give the working group more time to discuss these new suggestions. During these calls, a third suggestion emerged, combining both the proposals, as neither satisfied all concerns independently. This compromise proposal suggested the following changes:
- Recommendation #1– Establishing an Empowered Community for Enforcing Community Power
Language was proposed to be added to explain the ‘GAC carve out’, to give GAC a purely advisory role when the Empowered Community was considering challenging the Board’s implementation of GAC advice:
“The GAC may not, however, participate as a decision maker in the Empowered Community’s consideration of the exercise a community power for the purpose of challenging or blocking the Board’s implementation of GAC Advice. In such cases, the GAC remains free to participate in community deliberations in an advisory capacity, but its views will not count towards or against otherwise agreed thresholds needed to initiate a conference call, convene a Community Forum, or exercise a specific Community Power. This carve out preserves the ICANN Board’s unique obligation to work with the GAC try to find a mutually acceptable solution to implementation of GAC Advice supported by consensus (as defined in Rec. #11) while protecting the community’s power to challenge such Board decisions.”
- Recommendation #2– Empowering the Community Through Consensus: Engage, Escalate, Enforce
The table defining thresholds required for the exercise of various powers would need to be modified to reflect that GAC cannot cast a decisional voice when considering the exercise of community IRP for Board action on the basis of GAC advice:
“The CCWG-Accountability also recommends that in a situation where the GAC may not participate as a Decisional AC because the community power is proposed to be used to challenge the Board’s implementation of GAC Advice and the threshold is set at four in support, the power will still be validly exercised if three are in support and no more than one objects.”
- Recommendation #11– Board Obligations with Regard to Governmental Advisory Committee Advice (Stress Test #18)
Finally, this recommendation would have to be modified to reflect the lower threshold of 60% for the Board to reject GAC consensus advice.
GAC carve out revisited
Just when it was thought that the proposal had been finalized, certain aspects of Recommendations 1 and 2 were reopened to discussion when the Board submitted its position on the GAC carve out, expressing concern over the reduced threshold of 3 SO/AC for exercising the power of recalling the entire Board. This discussion was reopened in the CCWG-Accountability and the members and participants were polled in the last call. Based on the polling, the co-chairs concluded that the lower threshold of 3 SO/ACs for removal of the entire Board would only apply if the community IRP concluded that in following GAC advice, the Board acted inconsistently with ICANN bylaws. This version of the proposal has been finalised.
The issue of GAC’s role in post-transition ICANN has been the subject of much discourse. The majority of the dissent seemed to have arisen not because of Recommendation #11 alone, but because of how the CCWG proposal as a whole dealt with the role of GAC: as a decisional participant in Recommendation 1 (discussed here), exempting it from accountability reviews in Recommendation 10 (discussed here) and finally, GAC consensus advice in Recommendation #11. While the supplemental proposal has been finalised, it isn’t without dissenters. Minority Statements have been included in this proposal to accurately represent the range of opinions of CCWG-Accountability Members, and the proposal now awaits approval from the Chartering Organisations.