Visualising human rights at ICANN

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ARTICLE 19, Cross Community Working Party on ICANN's Corporate and Social Responsibility to Respect Human Rights (CCWP-HR)

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit organisation incorporated in California, established in 1998. It is responsible for the stable and secure operation of the Internet. Its work revolves around the management, operation and technical maintenance of the databases concerning both Internet “names” and “numbers”. In none-Internet speak, ICANN functions as the telephone book of the Internet by connecting domain names to their respective Internet protocol (IP) addresses. For example, when you type a URL into your browser, like, that is not actually the address of the web server. The domain name system (DNS) allows the translation between the URL and the actual IP address. This is done because people are much better at remembering words than numbers like IP addresses, which look like this: ICANN’s work coordinating the policy making and distribution of domain names and IP numbers has a direct impact on human rights. There are many examples of ICANN’s work impacting on human rights. Think, for instance, about the allocation of generic top level domains (gTLD). Who gets to have the gTLD .amazon? Is it the Brazilian government, through whose territory streams the Amazon River, or is it the Seattle-based company? Or the .gay gTLD? And what about the privacy issues related to the WHOIS database, the ICANN database that keeps record of who registers which domain name and can be queried by anyone? It is clear that ICANN has an impact on human rights through many of its processes and policies. But considering the complicated nature of ICANN, it is often difficult to see where and how these impacts play out. Because of this, the Cross Community Working Party on Human Rights (CCWP-HR) – founded and chaired by ARTICLE 19 – decided to map ICANN and present its findings in this data visualisation. The initial scoping led to the identification of various ICANN policies or processes that might have a human rights impact. These were further analysed to identify various overarching themes, and from these themes seven rights directly involved in the ICANN work were distilled. The purpose of the infographic is to make visible how ICANN impacts human rights, both for the ICANN community and the broader public. One of the main issues hindering new voices – especially civil society voices – from being heard at technical bodies like ICANN is the amount of jargon, technical know-how and understanding needed to participate in the different procedures. With this visualisation we hoped to make ICANN more accessible and understandable for all those interested in the relation between its work and human rights.