ICANN: Stick to Technology, not Morality
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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approves new registries and generic top level domains, among other tasks. Its oversight of the Internet is technical. Lately, it has veered onto moral and ethical ground, and that’s a serious mistake. It could have some very negative repercussions for both ICANN and the Internet’s future.
This new tendency was most apparent in the recent flap over ICANN’s response to the proposed .XXX generic top level domain. I first wrote about .XXX in 2005. More recently, I wrote about its final rejection in April 2007. If you read those two articles, you know that there was a lot more than simple bureaucracy involved in .XXX taking so long to be processed through the system.
The idea behind .XXX was simple. The triple-X sign is a well-known indication of pornographic content. There are many web surfers who want to avoid that kind of content; there are also many parents who want to be able to block their children from seeing that kind of content online (and elsewhere, too, but that’s beside the point for this discussion). There is another group of web surfers who like the idea of being able to find that content very easily. There are also responsible publishers of pornography who want to make sure that only people who really wish to view their content – and are legally permitted to do so – actually see it. And there are certain countries which shall remain nameless that choose to block all of their citizens from seeing pornography online.
One would assume, then, that allowing the creation of a registry for the .XXX gTLD would be a good thing, both for those who want to find porn (as if it’s that hard to do online!) and for those who want to block or avoid it. The situation turned out to be a lot more complicated than that. There are some indications that support for the .XXX gTLD was rather less than universal in the porn industry, but the push really hit a snag when conservative U.S. politicians and lobbyists started weighing in. For some reason they were convinced that approval of the .XXX gTLD meant that there would be even more pornography online; they also seemed to see approval of the .XXX gTLD as some kind of seal of approval on pornography, which in their opinion is a scourge against “family values.”
ICANN has jurisdiction over the Internet, which is global in scope – but it is based in the U.S. and is itself under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. Forced to cave in to pressure, it ultimately rejected the proposal to create the .XXX gTLD in March of 2007.
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