The Council of Europe released a Declaration encouraging the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (‘ICANN’), when developing policies for the Internet’s domain name system, to consider international privacy, security and human rights laws and policies. The Council has no legal power to force any changes on ICANN, but, having official observer status within ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, can offer detailed advice.

In its Declaration, the Council were keen to emphasise the important role that ICANN holds with regard to the control, security and supervision of the Internet, but also talked about its own responsibility to protect human rights; namely, the right to freedom of expression and access to information, the freedom of assembly and association, and the right to private and family life, including the protection of personal data.

As a result, the Council encourages ICANN to come to ‘an appropriate balance’ between economic interests and common interest objectives, such as pluralism, diversity and the needs of the vulnerable. To help ICANN achieve this, member states are asked to cooperate and communicate with ICANN to assist them in producing policies that comply with international law by protecting the rights of citizens, limiting any harm caused by ICANN, and ensuring transparency.
With around 1000 top level domains in use today and a number of controversial domain names being accepted recently, the Council is keen to ensure that this balance is met. An ICANN decision is still pending on another 600 requests, so the Council hopes to ensure the correct procedure is followed and the relevant legislation is taken into account before any further decisions are made.

The Declaration comes in response to ICANN’s decision to amend its guidelines after the United States announced that it was relinquishing its oversight of the corporation. Instead, the organisation will be overseen by a multi-stakeholder group, but when and how this transition will occur is yet to be decided.