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5/19/2006
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Internet Registry Fights For .XXX Domain

It's not just about porn--supporters of .XXX say the decision to reject the domain is an example of the U.S. exerting too much influence over Internet policy.

The Internet domain registry seeking approval for the .XXX top-level domain won't take no for an answer.

ICM Registry today said it would ask ICANN, the nonprofit corporation that oversees the domain name system (DNS) under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC), to reconsider its application to operate the .XXX TLD. It also said it would file a judicial appeal to force the U.S. government to restore redactions and omissions from official documents about the .XXX debate obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

On May 10, the ICANN board of directors voted 9-5 against ICM Registry's plans for a .XXX top-level domain. Supporters of the .XXX domain argue that a dedicated porn domain will make it easier to protect children from adult material online. Opponents contend that a .XXX TLD would only further legitimize pornography.

ICANN's rejection of .XXX has been widely criticized for being motivated by political pressure rather than the technical or administrative concerns that fall within ICANN's purview.

"Policies as to the use of domain names, as opposed to the registration of domain names, are not appropriate subjects for ICANN decision-making," dissenting ICANN board member Susan Crawford said in a statement posted on her blog. "We should not run the risk of turning ICANN into a convenient chokepoint for the content-related limitations desired by particular governments around the world."

It's the politicization of ICANN that has fueled complaints from other nations that current Internet governance structures are unresponsive to countries other than the United States.

The U.S. government documents released by ICM Registry reveal a concerted effort by DoC officials to disassociate the DoC from ICANN in order to sustain administration assertions that ICANN operates autonomously and without political direction.

The documents include a series of E-mail messages directed at media organizations. The messages seek changes in news stories that suggest the Department of Commerce is ultimately responsible for approving the contentious .XXX TLD.

In one such message, Clyde Ensslin, the former director of communications for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the Commerce Department, asked Washington Post writer Robert MacMillan to delete a reference to the DoC in a June 12 Associated Press story so as not to suggest that the ultimate fate of the .XXX domain rested with the government.

"The department has a strictly technical role in the implementation of new top level domains, but we do not make policy decisions, with respect to domain names or Internet content," Ensslin wrote in an E-mail dated June 17, 2005. "Accordingly, I would ask you to delete the words 'and ultimately the U.S. Commerce Department'..." The revised sentence placed responsibly for the .XXX TLD solely with ICANN.

"The DoC's effort to cover its tracks isn't surprising, since at the same time it was assuring the world in the WSIS [World Summit on the Information Society] process that it was merely a benign steward of the DNS," says Stuart Lawley, president of ICM Registry, in an E-mail.

NTIA declined to comment.

Milton Mueller, a Syracuse University professor of information studies and a member of the Internet Governance Project, believes the fallout from the politicization of the Internet's technical and administrative functions is likely to be the further balkanization of the Net. In an E-mail, Mueller writes, "I see a continuing conflict between the E.U. and the U.S. on these issues, I see more and more direct interference in ICANN via the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), I see a greater tendency of developing countries to 'go their own way' when it comes to Internet standards and policies."

This story was updated May 22.

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