ICANN, crashed in the cranium

"Anybody who thinks [the .xxx domain] would help parents protect kids from porn on the Internet has crashed in the cranium." Baptist Press News

- Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, quoted in

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees Internet domain names, last June was ready to give the .xxx global top-level domain (gTLD) the go-ahead, but on May 10 this year it changed its mind.

LaRue, the purveyor of unusual metaphors quoted above, is quite correct that the recently rejected .xxx domain would do nothing to help parents keep children away from porn on the Internet. In fact, if approved the proposed .xxx gTLD would do nothing at all for anyone, with the notable exception of an outfit called ICM Registry.

ICM is the company that came up with the idea of the .xxx domain. If the domain had received the go-ahead, ICM would have been the sole registrar, a role that would have generated a lot of money for it.

ICM's arguments for the .xxx domain were that it would make it much easier to find and filter out online pornography. It doesn't seem possible finding pornography on the Internet could be much easier, so we can ignore that one.

So, what about filtering? Sure, .xxx domains could be easily filtered if users blacklisted the domain, but porn would still appear in other domains.

ICM's arguments for .xxx were flawed, but most arguments against it were equally specious. Organizations such as the Family Research Council claimed that allocating a domain for pornography "would simply have the effect of legitimizing much material that is likely illegal," a stunningly silly argument.

ICM is annoyed, to say the least, and Stuart Lawley, chairman and president of ICM, is asking ICANN for an explanation. Lawley complained: "We've spent nearly six years and $3 million on this. We have followed the rules and have been told that we've got through at various stages. . . . There are a variety of routes for us to go down, and we are considering all our options."

Translation: We're thinking about suing ICANN.

From this you might think that allocating a new gTLD to be administered by a single registrar is not an option. Well, you would be wrong, because at the same ICANN meeting where the board turned down .xxx, it approved the establishment of a .tel gTLD to be administered by a single registrar, TelNIC.

The transcript of the ICANN meeting wherein .xxx was voted down while .tel was approved can be found here. What is particularly revealing is the lack of transparency, as all of the discussions surrounding the decisions are off the record.

Many are claiming that ICANN's decisions were politically driven, which is disputed by many board members. That said, it certainly is strange that as of March, Vint Cerf, chairman of ICANN, was widely reported to be in favor of .xxx. I suspect we are unlikely to find out what changed his mind.

What should concern us is that it is impossible for ICANN not to be the center of a storm of politics, yet the board apparently doesn't understand it has to rise above that. Without transparency and evenhandedness, the board dooms ICANN and America's role in Internet governance, which could eventually be interpreted as being so politicized and unfair that the rest of the world might take over Internet management forcibly. The result easily could be worse governance than ICANN is providing.

So, Cerf and other board members, let me ask you: Is this how you want history to remember you, as the guys who screwed up Internet governance? Feel free to respond to backspin@gibbs.com or post your comments on Gibbsblog.

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