Emergency measures introduced by ICANN to reform Whois in light of new privacy laws could wind up taking a full decade, or even longer, to bear dead-on-the-vine fruit.
That’s arguably the humiliating key takeaway from ICANN’s review of community-created policy recommendations to create a Standardized System for Access and Disclosure (SSAD), published this evening.
The Org has released its Operational Design Assessment (pdf) of SSAD, the first-ever ODA, almost nine months after the Operational Design Phase was launched last April.
It’s a 122-page document, about half of which is appendices, that goes into some detail about how SSAD and its myriad components would be built and by whom, how long it would take and how much it would cost.
It’s going to take a while for the community (and me) to digest, and while it generally veers away from editorializing it does gift opponents of SSAD (which may include ICANN itself) with plenty of ammunition, in the form of enumerated risk factors and generally impenetrable descriptions of complex systems, to strangle the project in the crib.
Today I’m just going to look at the timing.
Regular DI readers will find little to surprise them among the headline cost and timeline predictions — they’ve been heavily teased by ICANN in webinars for over a month — but the ODA goes into a much more detailed breakdown.
SSAD, ICANN predicts, could cost as much as $27 million to build and over $100 million a year to operate, depending on adoption, the ODA says. We knew this already.
But the ODA contains a more detailed breakdown of the timeline to launch, and it reveals that SSAD, at the most-optimistic projections, would be unlikely to see the light of day until 2028.
That’s a decade after the European Union introduced the GDPR privacy law in May 2018.
Simply stated, the GDPR told registries and registrars that the days of unfettered access to Whois records was over — the records contain personal information that should be treated with respect. Abusers could be fined big.
ICANN had been taken off-guard by the law. GDPR wasn’t really designed for Whois and ICANN had not been consulted during its drafting. The Org started to plan for its impact on Whois barely a year before it became effective.
It used the unprecedented top-down emergency measure of the Temporary Specification to force contracted parties to start to redact Whois data, and the GNSO Council approved an equally unprecedented Expedited Policy Development Process, so the community could create some bottom-up policy.
The EPDP was essentially tasked with creating a way for the people who found Old Whois made their jobs easier, such as intellectual property lawyers and the police, to request access to the now-private personal data.
It came up with SSAD, which would be a system where approved, accredited users could funnel their data requests through a centralized gateway and have some measure of assurance that they would at least be looked at in a standardized way.
But, considering the fact that they would not be guaranteed to have their requests approved, the system would be wildly complex, potentially very expensive, and easily circumvented, the ODP found.
It’s so complex that ICANN reckons it will take between 31.5 and 42 months for an outsourced vendor to build, and that’s after the Org has spent two years on its Implementation Review Team activities.
That’s up to almost six years from the moment ICANN’s board of directors approves the GNSO’s SSAD recommendations. That could come as early as next month (but as I reported earlier today, that seems increasingly unlikely).
The ODA points out that this timetable could be extended due to factors such as new legislation being introduced around the world that would affect the underlying privacy assumptions with which SSAD was conceived.
And this is an “expedited” process, remember?
Ten years ago, under different management and a different set of bylaws, ICANN published some research into the average duration of a Policy Development Process.
The average PDP took 620 days back then, from the GNSO Council kicking off the process to the ICANN board voting to approve or reject the policy. I compared it to an elephant pregnancy, the longest gestation period of all the mammals, to emphasize how slow ICANN had become.
Slow-forward to today, when the “expedited” PDP leading to SSAD has so far lasted 1,059 days, if we’re counting from when Phase 2 began in March 2019. It’s taken 1,287 days if we’re being less generous and counting from the original EPDP kicking off.
Nelly could have squeezed out two ankle-nibblers in that time. Two little elephants, one of which would most assuredly be white.
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