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auDA Using Bullying and Fear to Silence Critics

In an inflammatory email Tuesday night, auDA Chair Chris Leptos sent out an email boasting of his achievements while including a threat to all former Board members that they may have been referred to the Victorian Police due to certain “practices”. The email follows less than a week on from auDA Members under demanding a second Special General Meeting in 9 months to remove the Chair (again), the 2 other independent Directors and a vote of no-confidence in the CEO.

In his email, a “150 Day Report”, to members Leptos wrote “in my first week as Independent Chair I was briefed on a number of practices of several former auDA Directors. Your Board concluded that those practices warranted referral to the Victoria Police. As you would appreciate, it is not appropriate at this stage to provide further details regarding this matter.” As I’m a “former auDA Director”, albeit for only 2 years, as is one of the trio behind (Josh Rowe, but for 14 years), one has to wonder whether this is being used to intimidate and silence critics. It is understood that the “investigation” has seen auDA gunning for not only former Directors but also former senior management.

The announcement is inflammatory and comes at a time when the organisation is fighting fires on several fronts, including the campaign. The language and tone used reflect an organisation and its key personnel under fire. It’s also interesting that as the Chair of the Board Leptos has sought to take responsibility for the achievements listed in the email, rather than the Board or organisation doing so. Mentioning the widely rumoured investigation that auDA has been driving to discredit previous staff, and now it seems former Directors, at such a time, and that it has been referred to Victorian Police, is widely viewed as inflammatory. Further, Leptos has known about the investigation into former auDA staff and Directors since he was appointed in October, so why has he chosen to go public with it now?

One person auDA, the .au policy and regulatory body, has been gunning for, for reasons unknown but perhaps linked to the Victorian Police referral, is former CEO and now ICANN Vice Chair Chris Disspain. Domain Pulse has heard from several sources the current CEO Cameron Boardman has been seen engaged in long conversations with Ron Andruff, who also allegedly appears to have a vendetta against Disspain (Right to Know), in the corridors of recent ICANN meetings. It can only be speculated what may have been discussed, and Domain Pulse welcomes both Boardman and Andruff to set the record straight to end the whispers floating ‘in the ether’.

Domain Pulse also understands Boardman has made allegations about Disspain to other ccTLD (country code top level domain) managers at the ICANN Copenhagen meeting in March 2017. Sources have told Domain Pulse Boardman has made these allegations to discredit the CEO, but his attempts have fallen on deaf ears due to the lack of any substantiation of these claims.

Now with their feet facing the fire and an upcoming SGM to vote on removing the Chair and independent Directors, one can wonder if it’s a coincidence that former Directors are now being brought into the firing line, particularly as one of the 3 SGM proponents is a past Director.

Then there’s the Policy Review Panel, a panel formed with an inadequate number of members (6 plus the Chair John Swinson). On 9 April it was announced Demand Class representative Luke Summers had resigned from the panel leaving only 3 representatives. In his resignation letter, Summers wrote he no longer has “confidence that the Panel can proceed in a manner that is in the best interests of the Australian internet community”. Summer outlines his concerns regarding the “entirely inappropriate” size and composition of the Panel and the lack of business representation “exacerbated by the recent departure of Paul Zawa.”

The number was boosted to 4 with the appointment of Nicola Seaton, a General Counsel and Company Secretary for Canstar, a leading finance comparison site, has been appointed as a Peak Business Body representative. One would have hoped auDA would have appointed someone with recent experience in domain names on such a policy formation committee. The PRP has been plagued by resignations, poor attendance and limited output. Quorums have been hard to come by.

Registrars are equally non-plussed with auDA and Domain Pulse has been told a number had signed the petition to call for the SGM. There’s been discontentment among registrars with the process under which Afilias won the registry tender due to a lack of consultation. It must be noted that while the process that led to the decision has come under fire, and disappointment that Neustar lost, registrars are not opposed to change.

Some registrars have given Domain Pulse detailed information on their problems with auDA, but none are prepared to go on the record, not even to be quoted off-the-record. Registrars fear, as one registrar said, ‘we’re in a small pond and there are so few [auDA-accredited] registrars that it would be easy enough for auDA to work out who said what.’

And now with the dissatisfaction, auDA members are gunning for another Special General Meeting. The team gained enough support (5% of members) for the proposed SGM within hours. The ball’s now in auDA’s court but they have 21 days to say whether they agree to the SGM. Going by Leptos’ email to Members the meeting will be happening. “I will be writing to you further in relation to this development once the logistics for the meeting have been confirmed,” Leptos wrote in his email overnight. Now it’s a matter of whether all resolutions will be able to be voted on.

* Domain Pulse welcomes comments from auDA re any of the above issues. As per previous correspondence with auDA they have advised they “don’t usually reply to requests for blog stories” and have refused previous requests for comment.

* Disclaimer: the writer was an auDA Board member (2005 to 2007), served on 3 auDA Names Policy Panels (2007, 2010 and 2015), was a supplier to auDA for 14 years and is now a supplier to Neustar providing online media monitoring services.