The Internet's key oversight body has rejected future elections for board members, dealing a blow to critics who considered public participation key to preserving the interests of the Internet community.
Although the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers said it may revisit elections in the future, "it is obvious to all of us after carefully examining the issues that we're not doing elections now," the board's chairman, Vinton Cerf, said Wednesday.
At issue is who would manage and set policies for the Internet's naming system, which is key to how Internet users send e-mail and find Web sites.
Stuart Lynn, ICANN's chief executive, said most board members believe that any election system currently possible can't necessarily prevent fraud and domination by special interests.
Instead, he said, ICANN wants to focus on creating committees and other forums in which the community at-large could participate, and those forums could become the basis for elections in the distant future.
Karl Auerbach, one of five elected board members, denounced the action.
"ICANN made a great leap backwards," Auerbach said. "It repudiated the compact upon which it was formed -- an agreement that ICANN would, being a public and tax-exempt entity, allow the public to meaningfully participate."
Terms for the elected members expire in November.
The board, on the final day of meetings in Accra, did not rule directly on a proposal from Lynn to give governments greater role over selecting ICANN board members.
Instead, it asked a reform committee for recommendations by May 31 on how best to reorganize. ICANN would consider them at its next meeting, scheduled for June in Bucharest, Romania.
The US government selected ICANN in 1998 to oversee domain names and other addressing issues.
But Lynn concluded last month that leaving those matters entirely in private hands is unworkable. So he proposed scrapping direct elections, which has allowed the Internet community to choose some directors, and letting governments nominate some of the board seats.
Critics complained that eliminating representatives elected by the public would make the organization less accountable.