ICANN TLD censorship mechanisms hidden in procedural details of Applicant Guidebook

In increasingly oversizied legal & policy documents,  it can take some digging to find the real issues presented within. The proposed Final Version of ICANN's gTLD Applicant Guidebook is no different in this regard and many of the most important points are hidden among the details.

Hence when the Dynamic Coalition on Freedom of Expression & Freedom of the Media at the Internet Governance Forum wanted to comment on the new Applicant guidebook, we were happy that Milton Mueller from Syracuse & Delft Universities was prepared to go through more than 300-page document which even ICANN seems to think is too much to read in one go and has split up into five modules as a consequence.

Consequently it should come as little surprise that the statement which was finally submitted to ICANN by the FoE Dynamic Coalition on Friday focuses on 3.4.3., a tiny subsection of Module 3 (Procedures) which may nevertheless have important consequences for free expression at a global level. Rather worryingly the FoE Dynamic Coalition was the only entity to comment specifically on the procedures section (Module 3) of the Applicant Guidebook, as becomes evident from ICANNs lists of submitted comments to the module:


The comments made focus on important definitions & mechanisms within the procedures section which would allow objections to TLDs to be made anonymously, based on concepts such as ‘public interest’ which are ill-defined internationally and privatises the whole process through a seperate “dispute resolution service provider.”

For those who are still not convinced that these procedures are likely to have significant negative effects on free expression, the inclusion of “morality and public order” within the document should be enough to sway such critics. As there is no globally accepted standard for morality and public order, the term ‘general principles of international law’ seems slightly more appropriate.

The points mentioned here are just a brief summary of the whole statement, which can be viewed here:


As part of the FoE Dynamic Coalition, we urge ICANN to engage with these comments and extensively modify the section on procedures addressed. Although the criticism may seem to be only procedural in nature, their impact is highly substantive and goes to the core of freedom of expression concerns in the Applicant Guidebook.

The more the policy process becomes overloaded with increasingly weighty documents, the more important it is to inspect the details of the processes and mechanisms hidden within them. In this case as in many others the most substantive issues may be hidden between reams of paper and text, on page 136 of 305, or in Section 3.4.3.

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