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Sunday, November 17, 2013

[hifa2015] How can we stop ICANN decision that could profoundly damage global health?

Dear HIFA colleagues,

A few weeks ago I posted the Lancet article below, which highlights the threat of a commercial sale of the new top-level domain ".health".

The authors point out that ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which controls all internet naming, could be about to make a decision to sell ".health" to the highest commercial bidder. The decision is imminent. I have indeed heard that an ICANN meeting that will include discussion of ".health" is being held over the *next few days*.

As the authors of the Lancet article point out, sale of ".health" to a commercial enterprise "could have a profound effect on health information access and quality for generations to come". This is something that should concern all of us, everywhere.

ICANN hosts a wiki which apparently can only be edited by them and which briefly describes the issue in rather difficult-to-follow language, without actually explaining the nature of the objections that have been raised by leading health organisations, including WHO, and by national governments:

These objections may be found elsewhere by googling. Essentially, there is a *great* deal of concern among health agencies worldwide, and a small handful of governments, of the public health consequences of commercialising ".health". In particular, there will be little if any assurance that the content of websites carrying the ".health" domain name will contain reliable health information. There is a serious risk that misinformation and/or commercially biased information could be propagated using the ".health" suffix. It is likely that many citizens worldwide will see the ".health" suffix as an indication that the information is primarily intended for their health, whereas the reality would be that much of the information would inevitably be wholly unreliable, and driven by commercial (or even ideological) motives.

I was especially concerned to read the latest news on this wiki, which read as follows: "The IO [Independent Objector - see below] lost its objection to Afilias' applicant for .health in a ICC determination by 3 panelists made on 6 November 2013. The determination was the first Limited Public Interest Objection to be decided, as well as the first objection filed by the IO to be decided. [19]

I am not entirely clear how the proceedings work, but the wiki tells us that "[ICANN's Independent Objector] is an appointed authority on international law whose role is to object to strings on the grounds of Community harm and Limited Public Interest were detailed in the applicant guidebook. His objections are official objections and are funded by ICANN, though his office is otherwise independent. Reasons for the specific case against .health were not initially given, but, in the case of Limited Public Interest, "the applied-for gTLD string must be contrary to generally accepted legal norms of morality and public order that are recognized under fundamental principles of international law. The expert panel appointed by the ICC will base its decision on the existence of such a contradiction." The applied for string must threaten an incitement to violence of lawless action, discrimination, child pornography, or "be contrary to specific principles of international law as reflected in relevant international instruments of law.""

This reference to "violence of lawless action, discrimination, child pornography..." is bizarre and I cannot claim to understand how this is relevant. What is at issue here is the availability of reliable versus unreliable healthcare information. I hope that others on HIFA may be able to enlighten us further.

Regrettably, there has been an almost total absence of advocacy and awareness-raising about the issue, apart from The Lancet article. Other than the authors of the Lancet article, there is no advocacy leadership of which I am aware. This is the kind of issue that needs a prominent global health leader to speak out. I do not know whether Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, is free to speak out on this, but I feel that we need a strong statement from someone at the highest level.

In the meantime, what can we (HIFA members) do to stop ICANN making - or at least deferring - a decision that could profoundly damage global health?

Best wishes,
HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of the HIFA2015 campaign and co-director of the Global Healthcare Information Network. ...
[ As mentioned above Neil also posted the Lancet article - I have just copied the link below ]

Below is the citation and extracts of a new article in The Lancet. The full text is freely available here:

Ensuring the future of health information online
Tim K Mackey, Bryan A Liang, Amir Attaran, Jillian C Kohler
The Lancet, Volume 382, Issue 9902, Page 1404, 26 October 2013
doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62215-1Cite or Link Using DOI

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