In the view of at least two ICANN Watch editors, Michael Froomkin and myself, the prospects for this appointment seem suboptimal, for the reasons Michael explained here and here. I would be delighted if Mr Twomey would prove me wrong; I imagine Michael would too.
The near-simultaneous appointment of Tony Staley, former Federal President of the Liberal Party of Australia, as the interim occupant of the yet-to-be-created CCNSO's seat on the NomCom suggests that ICANN's reforms are taking an antipodean turn. A hint about just how much that will differ (or not) from ICANN's current mindset might be construed from Peter Dengate-Thrush's unusually sarcastic response to news of the Staley appointment:
The board is to be congratulated. Faced with the huge diversity of opinion, geography, legal tradition, ethnicity and language that the cctlds represent, which causes we elected officials of cctld institutions so much time and trouble in establishing consensus positions on key matters, the board has been able, by a secret process, to appoint a white, middle-aged male, from a country with an Anglo-Saxon based linguistic and legal tradition closely similar to that of the US.
Of course, the mere fact that Mr. Twomey and Mr. Staley have their common origins in Australian federal governmental affairs by no means means they're birds of a feather, and in some ways they clearly are not. Mr. Staley is a late arrival on the scene, having arrived on the board of auDA in September 2000 and subsequently been elected chairman. Mr. Twomey, on the other hand, is an old ICANN hand, having presided over the GAC, among other things. Though from my perspective his track record is worrisome, the fact that he has a track record at all is a good thing.
Back in the day, Mr. Twomey was willing to criticize ICANN on substantive grounds. For example, at the July 2000 Yokohama meeting when ICANN's board was swatting off the prospect of public input in the form of the Membership at Large, he said (and hats off to the Berkman Center for the archives):
There could be two paths that this organization could end up going down. One path is a path where it merges...we find ourselves in six months' time ... the organization has essentially become an international industry association where the definition of the internet community is actually the supply-side.... It is either supply-side in terms of ccTLD administrators or other TLD administrators, it's supply-side in terms of large corporates in terms of content, it's supply-side in terms of trademark holders, it's supply-side in terms of people who control the registries and [unclear]... And that ICANN becomes an international organization representing the interests [of] those it provides services to.... The alternative is that it becomes an organization firmly focused upon the needs of the users, and that it becomes a representative of a definition of the internet community which is around the user base and [defining] stability [in terms of] the user base .... The organization runs the risk of potentially becoming a de facto industry association. If it were to do so, it would need to recognize, I think, that governments [and] competition and consumer protection organizations would pay much more attention to the activities of ICANN and would begin to apply tests to ICANN around consumer protection issues and around monopoly problems.... (RealFnord, at 03:39:00)
It will be interesting to hear how Mr. Twomey's thoughts on any number of subjects have "evolved" on the subject of ICANN as "de facto industry association" over the last few years. More proximate, though, are the questions recently raised on ICANN Watch involving fundamental issues of bylaws, accountability, his seeming interest in "leveraging" gatekeeping activities, and the interaction of his public and private roles:
Later today, Mr. Twomey is scheduled to air his views to the press. That's fine; but some real issues surrounding ICANN have to do, as he himself said not so long ago, with users. ICANNWatch would be delighted if Mr. Twomey would agree to use the Internet to discuss these questions, since, over the last few years, it has shown a remarkable capacity for direct, interactive communication. With all due respect to hard-working journalists, given this new context, press conferences can seem a bit retrograde; one might even regard them not as opportunities to reveal through "the media" but, rather, opportunities to conceal through mediation. We strongly believe that ICANN would benefit quite a bit if he inaugurated his tenure with a candid discussion of his own and ICANN's past and future.
- Why did Mr. Twomey file a bogus IP claim for "privacy.biz" when (a) "privacy" is generic, and (b) he didn't even have a common law claim to "privacy" (but only to a much longer string containing the word)?
- Was his company ArgoP@cific paid anything for his time as chair of GAC? Or are remarkably round figures like US$75,000 actual, documentable expenses? If the latter, is he or the company willing to make a public accounting of them? If not, why not?
Alternatively, there's no reason, aside from the "efficiencies" of bureaucratic padding, that Mr. Twomey needs to rely on ICANN's ever-expanding (and very inefficient) staff to tell him what's going on. Thus, he could, for example, participate in a listserv dedicated to "asking the president." (Too inefficient, you say? Nope. In my spare time, I co-moderate one with almost 3000 people on it; an ICANN-president list would be lucky to attract 300 -- as even ICANN's staff, which has taken to describing public interest as minimal, must surely agree.)
Other coverage of Mr. Twomey's appointment includes News.com.au, The Age, and the Washington Post. The latter article, by the ICANN-savvy David McGuire, quotes boardmember Karl Auerbach as saying: "I find him refreshingly different and refreshingly more broad-minded than his predecessors, I definitely feel like there's going to be an improvement. It's hard for things to get much worse."
We hope so. More than a pseudo-reform, ICANN desperately needs to be refreshed. Mr. Twomey, an accomplished political operative, is certainly capable of doing just that. Though the specific context has changed, ICANN is now more than ever poised at the brink of precisely the question Mr. Twomey posed at Yokohama: will it continue to "evolve" by fits and starts into "a de facto industry association," or will it instead reverse its course and become "an international organization representing the interests" of and "firmly focused upon the needs of the users"? The choice, now more than ever before, is his.