Earlier this month US Presidential hopeful, Senator Ted Cruz, wrote to ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé to express his displeasure over Chehadé’s activity in China.
Chehadé’s reply was sent last week and obviously did little to placate the Republican politician. In a release from Cruz’s office last night it’s pretty clear that we haven’t heard the end of this episode (emphasis added):
“Either the World Internet Conference and the People’s Republic of China have misreported the events that took place during their own conference or Fadi Chehade isn’t being completely honest with the United States Senate,” said Sen. Cruz. “While Chehade continues to state that his first meeting won’t take place until later this year, the Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China, reported on December 17, 2015 that, ‘The advisory committee held its first meeting on the sidelines of the second World Internet Conference in Wuzhen of east China’s Zhejiang Province. Jack Ma, founder of China’s Internet giant Alibaba, and Fadi Chehade, president and CEO of ICANN, act as co-chairman of the advisory committee.’ It should also be noted that Chehade has admitted that he has entered into an arrangement while still serving as the CEO of ICANN and performing under a contract with the United States government, through which his future travel costs to the Chinese government’s state-sponsored World Internet Conference will be compensated. Travel compensation from the Chinese government can be a form of personal conflict of interest, which could impair Chehade’s ability to act impartially and in the best interest of the government when performing under the contract. As such, Chehade should recuse himself from all ICANN decisions that could impact the Chinese government, which include all negotiations and discussions pertaining to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) transition.”
The politics around this are far from simple, but the obvious concern being raised is in relation to the IANA transition which some Republicans are seeing as a “surrender” of US interests. The fear that has been voiced in the past, primarily by more right-wing US interests, is that by the US Government removing itself from the IANA contract that the US would effectively be giving up control of the Internet and giving governments such as China control.
So the message from Cruz is hardly surprising, but the emphasis he’s given the IANA contract and Chehadé’s role seems a little odd. It could be just my own reading of it, but the wording suggests to me that Cruz thinks Chehadé’s role as ICANN CEO, which in turn runs IANA, means that there is a conflict of interest (well he’s actually said that, so it’s not just my interpretation). However, to the best of my knowledge, neither ICANN nor its CEO gets any money from the US government for running IANA, so while there’s a contract, there’s no monetary benefit.
While I might be missing some of the subtleties of this entire debacle I suspect that Chehadé and ICANN are just pawns in a bigger political play.