ICANN’s version of Freedom of Information requests

It’s not easy, but here’s how you can get ICANN to publish information.

Whenever I see someone file a request with ICANN under its Documentary Information Disclosure Policy (DIDP), I roll my eyes and try to figure out how ICANN will deny the request. In reality, the results are a bit more nuanced than that.

Under DIDP, anyone can ask ICANN to release documents related to its work. Think of DIDP kind of like freedom of information requests. It provides a way to get a hold of information specific to ICANN and its policy initiatives, communications, and announcements. DIDP is designed to help shed light on ICANN deliberations and decision-making.

Despite many complaints, ICANN’s transparency is fairly substantial, considering it’s a private corporation that releases the majority of its meeting records, policies, and process documents.

But that very commitment can obscure more than it reveals. Even ICANN had to admit in its latest Transparency Report that:

…the Board, community, and org have produced and accumulated thousands of pieces of unstructured content spread across 38 different public sites. This content continues to grow by up to 30% each year. The org currently surfaces this content through multiple unconnected platforms with differing foundational technologies that are non-scalable, may be vulnerable, and are no longer fit for purpose.

All of that content can make it difficult when searching for information about a particular topic. It’s kind of like when one side in a lawsuit delivers a bunch of useless information in discovery with the hope that the other side won’t be able to find the useful information buried in it. I have been critical of ICANN for getting rid of MyICANN, a daily digest of website change on ICANN.org. It replaced it with a much-less-useful service that uncovers only a few things.

A recent review of DIDP outcomes reveals that 28% of all DIDP requests received responses that answered the requester’s inquiries by simply citing publicly available information. This means it was information the requestor couldn’t find on their own, or ICANN didn’t completely fulfill the request (in the eyes of the requestor) but pointed to the public information.

Chart showing results of DIDP requests at ICANN: 25% information disclosed, 28% pointed to public info, 47% declined

ICANN’s process includes a variety of ways to deny DIDP requests. The request must be for documents in ICANN’s possession, not publicly available, responsive to the request, and not subject to Defined Conditions of Nondisclosure. Those conditions are extensive; they include confidential documents submitted by third parties, documents that could compromise the safety of the DNS, documents that are privileged, and most broadly, documents that, if disclosed, would “compromise ICANN’s deliberative decision-making process.”

Recently, ICANN released a summary report of the public comments on proposed changes to the DIDP, which has existed since 2009. Not much will change in terms of the DIDP or the response process. However, there may be changes in how to challenge outcomes. Until now, the only avenue of appeal for failed DIDP requests was ICANN’s Reconsideration process, and DIDP-focused reconsideration requests have failed every time. The proposed changes include a review mechanism for DIDP decisions, possibly via ICANN’s Ombudsman’s office or a separate complaint officer. Frequent users of the DIDP process might find more success in the new process, but public comments about the proposed changes were critical of the new options.

So, what does it take to get some sort of results from filing a DIDP? Based on the stats, here are a few things to do:

Be specific – overly broad requests are almost always dismissed as too burdensome.

Don’t waste your time preempting objections – many have tried to “prove” that the information they’re requesting is not subject to Defined Conditions of Nondisclosure. That tactic hasn’t worked. Instead, concentrate on providing the context for your request by telling ICANN what you hope to learn.

Don’t be afraid to ask for documents that will probably fall under a nondisclosure condition – ICANN staff apply a balancing test to such requests, determining if the public interest in knowing the information outweighs the condition. And with the proposed reforms to the policy, staff will be expected to seek authorization from third parties or others to waive confidentiality conditions.

So while many of us joke about the usefulness of DIDP, there are some ways to use it effectively, and the effectiveness might improve in the future.

Post link: ICANN’s version of Freedom of Information requests

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