Board Activities and Meetings
A Special Meeting of the ICANN Board of Directors was held telphonically on 19 February 2020 at 20:00 UTC.
Maarten Botterman, Chair, promptly called the meeting to order.
In addition to the Chair, the following Directors participated in all or part of the meeting: Becky Burr, Ron da Silva, Sarah Deutsch, Chris Disspain, Avri Doria, Rafael Lito Ibarra, Danko Jevtović, Akinori Maemura, Göran Marby (President and CEO), Mandla Msimang, Ihab Osman, Nigel Roberts, León Sánchez (Vice Chair), Matthew Shears, and Tripti Sinha.
The following Board Liaisons participated in all or part of the meeting: Harald Alvestrand (IETF Liaison), Manal Ismail (GAC Liaison), Merike Käo (SSAC Liaison), and Kaveh Ranjbar (RSSAC Liaison).
Secretary: John Jeffrey (General Counsel and Secretary).
The following ICANN Executives and Staff participated in all or part of the meeting: Susanna Bennett (SVP, Chief Operations Officer), Xavier Calvez (Chief Financial Officer), Franco Carrasco (Board Operations Specialist), Mandy Carver (Senior Vice President for Government and Intergovernmental Organization (IGO) Engagement), Sally Newell Cohen (SVP, Global Communications), Sally Costerton (Sr Advisor to President & SVP, Global Stakeholder Engagement), Joseph De Jesus (Manager, Travel Support), Rodrigo De La Parra (Vice President, Stakeholder Engagement & Managing Director – Latin America & Caribbean), Sam Eisner (Deputy General Counsel), Sean Freeark (Regional Security Manager – Europe / Latin America / Caribbean), Simon Garside (VP, Security Operations), Daniel Halloran (Deputy General Counsel & Chief Data Protection Officer), Jamie Hedlund (SVP, Contractual Compliance & Consumer Safeguard), John Jeffrey (General Counsel and Secretary), Aaron Jimenez (Board Operations Specialist), Vinciane Koenigsfeld (Senior Director, Board Operations), Karen Lentz (Senior Director, Policy Research & Data Services), David Olive (Senior Vice President, Policy Development Support), Erika Randall (Associate General Counsel), Ashwin Rangan (SVP Engineering & Chief Information Officer), Lisa Saulino (Board Operations Specialist), Amy Stathos (Deputy General Counsel), Theresa Swinehart (Senior Vice President, Multistakeholder Strategy and Strategic Initiatives), Nick Tomasso (Vice President, Global Meeting Operations & Managing Director – Middle East & Africa), Gina Villavicencio (SVP, Global Human Resources), and Russ Weinstein (Sr. Director, gTLD Accounts and Services).
Impact of COVID-19 on ICANN67
The Chair introduced the agenda item and Göran Marby provided a briefing to the Board about the global situation related to the COVID-19 coronavirus. The briefing addressed ICANN org's work to track and assess the impact of COVID-19 on ICANN's work, including the potential impact of moving forward with ICANN67 as planned in Cancún, Mexico. As part of the briefing, Göran reported that ICANN org convened a crisis management team to closely monitor COVID-19 to help track and assess this global situation.
Based on input from the crisis management team, Göran stated that ICANN org was recommending that the Board consider not holding ICANN67 as an in-person meeting in Cancún. He explained the rationale for ICANN org's recommendation, which included the fact that much remains unknown by medical experts about the spread of COVID-19, steps taken by other global conferences and organizations to cancel or postpone large international events, considerations as an employer with responsibility for staff, and the potential of an ICANN67 participant inadvertently bringing COVID-19 into the region.
The Board engaged in a robust discussion of the recommendation from ICANN org, and a full spectrum of viewpoints and contributions were expressed by Board members. Board members acknowledged the importance of hearing the range of viewpoints and the difficulty of the matter under consideration.
Some Board members agreed with the ICANN org recommendation to not hold ICANN67 as an in-person meeting. They noted that bringing in attendees from all over the world would raise the potential of bringing the virus to Mexico, and ICANN could be accountable for health and safety issues that could arise. Some suggested that not only does the Board have a responsibility for ICANN org and the community, in this situation the Board also should consider its decision in the broader context of its responsibility as "global citizens". They considered whether it would be responsible to continue with an in-person meeting in light of possible propagation of COVID-19.
Other Board members highlighted that epidemiologists and other health experts have suggested that slowing the spread of the COVID-19 is critical, and minimizing or eliminating travel could help minimize the risk of spreading the virus. The Board also compared and contrasted the current situation with COVID-19 to the situation with the spread of the Zika virus and ICANN's decision to relocate ICANN56 and ICANN57.
Board members also commented on reports from the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how the disease is spreading and how this should be factored into a decision about whether to move forward with the in-person meeting or not. Some Board members made note of actions taken by other companies and organizations about whether or not to place restrictions on company travel and attendance at global conferences. It was noted that switching from an in-person meeting to a virtual meeting could be a good test of remote participation capabilities.
Other Board members did not agree with the recommendation from ICANN org. Board members pointed out that the feedback from the community seemed to support moving forward with an in-person meeting, and as a service organization, ICANN should move forward with the meeting as planned.
As part of the discussion, it was noted that the World Health Organization had not indicated that travel and such gatherings should stop, and this should be a significant factor in the Board's deliberations. Some Board members also commented that a significant factor weighing in favor of moving forward with the meeting as originally planned is the fact that the Mexican government had not discouraged ICANN from continuing to host the meeting in Cancún.
Some Board members acknowledged the potential risks of continuing with the in-person meeting as planned, while also acknowledging that it would be impossible to avoid all risks, especially given that ICANN hosts meetings around the world. They suggested that Board members consider the potential reputation risk that may come from cancelling the in-person meeting and whether it would set a potential precedent in the long-run about ICANN's global relevance. Some members of the Board noted that the reputation risk is of particular concern in the Latin American region given the past actions to postpone and relocate the ICANN meetings in Panama and Puerto Rico due to the spread of the Zika virus.
Board members also expressed concerns about the economic impact of cancelling the in-person meeting on community members who have expended resources on flight and hotel reservations, as well as the economic impact on the venue and host hotels to prepare for the meeting. Board members encouraged ICANN org to appropriately manage the situation with the venue and hotels whatever the outcome of the Board's decision.
Board members also commented on taking a risk-based approach to the decision at hand. Some Board members highlighted that some of the scenarios being discussed were worst-case, but the probability that they would happen is fairly small. It was also acknowledged that the risk of meeting face-to-face is not just a personal risk of infection, but also the risk that a meeting attendee could potentially bring the virus back to their family and community once leaving the meeting.
The Board also discussed whether it would be possible to have a "hybrid" meeting where there would remain an in-person meeting component in Cancún while integrating additional remote participation tools or features to enhance the meeting experience for those who elect not to attend or are not permitted by their employers to attend. The President and CEO commented on complexities of taking such an approach, and explained that there would not be sufficient resources or time to proceed on that basis.
The Board discussed the proposed resolutions, and members suggested modifications to them to reflect additional points raised during the course of the Board's deliberations. After discussion, the Board took the following actions:
Whereas, on 23 June 2018, the ICANN Board approved for ICANN organization to proceed to contracting in support of ICANN67 in Cancún, Mexico (https://www.icann.org/resources/board-material/resolutions-2018-06-23-en#1.d).
Whereas, the ICANN Board is responsible for a decision to change an ICANN Public Meeting location once such a meeting location has been approved for contracting and announced.
Whereas, in December 2019, a new strain of coronavirus, referred to as COVID-19, emerged and on 30 January 2020 was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a public health emergency of international concern. As of 18 February 2020, there are over 73,000 confirmed cases globally, with over 1,800 reported deaths. While most of these cases are in China, there are confirmed cases in 25 other countries around the world. As we understand the situation, much remains unknown about the spread of COVID-19, though it is documented to be transmittable even through asymptomatic carriers.
Whereas, as an organization with staff and stakeholders across the globe, in January 2020 ICANN org convened an adaptive crisis management team (A-CMT) in order to assist ICANN org in tracking and assessing the impact of COVID-19 on ICANN's work.
Whereas, ICANN org, through the A-CMT, briefed the Board on the current status of COVID-19, including the potential impacts on ICANN67. The Board also received a briefing from a representative of International SOS regarding the status of the Mexican authorities' ability to respond to the global health emergency and its readiness to address a suspected or confirmed case if one were to emerge during ICANN67. ICANN org also provided a similar briefing to the SO/AC leadership on 18 February 2020.
Whereas, there are currently 1,350 registrations for ICANN67, with participants from approximately 155 countries or territories flying in from around the world. While there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases to date either in Mexico or within the Latin American region at present, it is a fluid situation that can be impacted by unknowingly infected travelers. The Board is concerned about the potential of an ICANN67 participant inadvertently bringing COVID-19 into the region, or for the potential of other cases being identified in the area.
Whereas, if there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 among the participants in ICANN67, be it from the community, ICANN org, or ICANN Board, neither the ICANN org or Board will be in a position to control the impact on other participants or the ability to continue with the meeting. The federal and state health authorities for the region will direct the response, including possible hospitalization and quarantine of the patient and those who have been in close proximity to the patient.
Whereas, if significant numbers of ICANN community or org members are impacted by COVID-19 while in Cancún or after they return to their home countries, there is a high risk that the community's ability to do its work could be impacted.
Whereas, the Board is aware of multiple events that have been cancelled or postponed in both the areas more directly impacted by COVID-19, as well as areas where there are few to no confirmed cases, due to the risks and concerns posed by hosting a large international gathering during the time when little is understood about the transmission or containment of COVID-19. Some of the more recent cancellations include the GSMA's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain; Facebook's Global Marketing Summit in San Francisco, California; and INTA's Annual Meeting in Singapore.
Whereas, the Board understands the import of the face-to-face interactions as provided for at ICANN's public meetings. However, health and security are paramount, and the Board also recognizes the ICANN community's unique ability to conduct challenging work through remote participation avenues, and the ICANN org's ability to provide for broad remote participation facilities.
Whereas, the Board heard the community inputs that were solicited and provided to ICANN org, and acknowledges that many in the community remained ready to attend an in-person meeting for ICANN67. The deliberations amongst the Board represented the full range of viewpoints on this sensitive and challenging issue.
Resolved (2020.02.19.01), by virtue of the public health emergency of international concern posed by COVID-19, the daily evolving developments, and the high global risk still identified, the Board directs the ICANN President and CEO, or his designees, to take all necessary actions to not hold ICANN67 as an in-person meeting in Cancún, Mexico.
Maarten Botterman moved and Becky Burr seconded Resolution 2020.02.19.01. Eleven members of the Board voted in favor of the Resolution. Ron da Silva, Avri Doria, Danko Jevtović, Ihab Osman, and León Sánchez voted against the Resolution. The Resolution carried.
Resolved (2020.02.19.02), as the Board has determined to not proceed to Cancun, Mexico for ICANN67, the Board directs the ICANN President and CEO to move ICANN67 to ICANN's first fully remote public meeting.
Avri Doria moved and Nigel Roberts seconded Resolution 2020.02.19.02. Fifteen members of the Board voted in favor of the Resolution. Ihab Osman voted against the Resolution. The Resolution carried.
Resolved (2020.02.19.03), the Board directs the ICANN President and CEO, or his designees, to immediately begin engagement with the ICANN community to achieve an appropriate schedule for the remote public meeting. This includes engagement with those Review Teams, Working Groups, or other committees that have meetings scheduled before or after ICANN67 to determine appropriate alternative arrangements for those meetings.
Resolved (2020.02.19.04), the Board sends its deep gratitude to the host committees, hotels, and venues of ICANN67 in Cancún and our regrets for the impacts this global health emergency causes on our meeting plans. The Board is committed to joining you in 2021 as planned for ICANN70.
Tripti Sinha moved and Akinori Maemura seconded Resolutions 2020.02.19.03 – 2020.02.29.04. All members of the Board voted in favor of the Resolutions. The Resolutions carried.
Rationale for Resolutions 2020.02.19.01 – 2020.02.19.04
The Board takes this action today in as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, considered a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization. While the Board recognizes and upholds the value of face-to-face interactions at ICANN's Public Meetings, and the advancement of ICANN community work that happens at these meetings, we cannot move forward with an in-person meeting at the cost of the health of attendees, ICANN org staff members, and the host country. Just as the Board has previously considered in moving meetings due to the emerging Zika virus, health and safety must be the paramount concern.
At the time of the Board decision, the December 2019 COVID-19 outbreak now stands at over 73,000 confirmed cases across 26 countries, with more than 1,800 deaths attributed to the virus. Each day, new information and questions emerge on the mode of transmission, the methodology for preventing the spread of the virus, the ability for carriers to transmit the virus without having any symptoms, and the potential for fatality once infected. While most of the confirmed cases are within China, the spread outside of China has included multiple people infected at or after contact with the 109 attendees of a conference in Singapore, including one attendee who has been identified as the source of at least 11 new cases in England, France, and Spain after he returned from the meeting. A single cruise ship has been the source of at least 500 confirmed cases. Over 1,000 passengers and crew from a different cruise ship disembarked and started flying around the world, only to learn that a fellow passenger tested positive for COVID-19 . While health officials have not declared a pandemic, the extent of new clusters or pockets of cases outside of China are being monitored, with health officials noting that the "next three weeks" will be crucial in such a determination. Those three weeks span the time when the ICANN community is expected to converge on Cancún for ICANN67.
The ICANN Board has been watching how other large, international conferences are responding to COVID-19 in light of the emerging situation. The GSMA cancelled its Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain, saying, "With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event." Facebook cancelled its Global Marketing Summit, scheduled for 9-12 March in San Francisco, California, noting "Out of an abundance of caution, we canceled our Global Marketing Summit due to evolving public health risks related to coronavirus." Approximately 5,000 people were expected to attend. IBM has withdrawn from the RSA Conference, scheduled for 24-28 February in San Francisco, California, stating, "The health of IBMers continues to be our primary concern as we monitor upcoming events and travel relative to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). As a result, we are cancelling our participation in this year's RSA conference." The International Trademark Association postponed and relocated its 2020 Annual Meeting, originally scheduled for 25-29 April in Singapore, just as more than two dozen other conferences have been cancelled in the Asian region due to the outbreak.
It is within this framework that the Board considers the impact of COVID-19 on the plans for ICANN67 in Cancún. There are over 1,350 registered attendees, traveling from 155 countries or territories – including the 26 countries that have confirmed cases. While ICANN org can, and has, planned for detection of the virus during the meeting and can provide best practice guidelines for attendees to try to reduce the risk of transmission, if even a single attendee at the conference presents with COVID-19, ICANN would contribute to the global spread of COVID-19 and bring the virus into Mexico and the LAC region. Separately, the impact to the attendees and the ability to even proceed with the meeting cannot be known at this time.
Taking all of this into account, the global health emergency presented by COVID-19 makes it inappropriate for ICANN to convene an in-person Public Meeting at this time. While we have every confidence in the ability of the Federal and State health authorities in Cancún, Mexico to respond to suspected or confirmed cases, it is still too early in the path of COVID-19 to raise the risk of spread in this way.
The ICANN org has initiated planning for ICANN's first remote-only meeting, so that the important work of the ICANN community can continue even without the face-to-face interaction. With this resolution, the Board is directing the ICANN org to coordinate with the ICANN community to achieve an appropriate schedule for the sessions planned for ICANN67. The Board also recognizes that there are other face-to-face meetings attendant to ICANN67, such as Review Team meetings or Nominating Committee meetings, that must also be reconfigured as a result of this decision, and the Board directs ICANN org to identify appropriate alternative arrangements for those sessions.
Prior to taking this decision, the Board received briefings from ICANN org, as well as experts from International SOS (ISOS), on the status of COVID-19 and preparations for ICANN67. ICANN's President and CEO contacted the leadership of ICANN's SOs and ACs to see how the different constituencies were reacting to the outbreak, and convened a session on 18 February 2020 with the SO/AC leadership to share ICANN org's briefing and make an ISOS doctor available to receive questions. ICANN org then followed up with the leadership to further the understanding of the community on this issue. While we understand that many in the community are still willing and interested to travel to an in-person ICANN67, the risks and uncertainty discussed above are too difficult to mitigate. We understand that this cancellation poses some hardship on those with existing plans to travel to Cancún, and we greatly apologize for this. We also thank the ICANN community for its commitment to pursue the work of this meeting remotely, as we know that the ICANN community is well-suited for this effort. As the Board, we have been assured that a remote public forum remains on the schedule, and we look forward to engaging directly with you as we do at every Public Meeting.
The ICANN Board thanks the host committee as well as our community in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) who worked tirelessly to host this meeting in Cancún. We appreciate their understanding and look forward to returning to the LAC region for ICANN70 in 2021.
This action is within ICANN's mission and the public interest, as it is the only path to assure that the work of the ICANN community continues as planned for ICANN67. It is the proper decision on many levels, from not putting ICANN org staff at risk; risking the need to divert the resources and attention of ICANN org to a response to a COVID-19 outbreak amongst ICANN org or the community; to taking a responsible and proper measure to protect against contributing to the global outbreak.
This decision has resource implications that are being quantified. However, the resources that could be used in the event that ICANN needs to respond to a COVID-19 case/outbreak are currently unquantifiable and likely extremely high. This decision has no impact on the security, stability, or resiliency of the Internet's DNS.
This is an organizational administrative decision that does not require public comment.
The Chair called the meeting to a close.
Published on 13 March 2020