ICANN: Stick to Technology, not Morality - Urgency and Scope of Domain Freedom
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While this most recent meeting of ICANN concerned itself with issues of transparency, it is the next meeting, to be held in Los Angeles, which might be most worrisome for those who think ICANN should not attempt to censor. Scheduled for late October, the public meeting will discuss internationalized domain names as well as “new generic top-level domains” which “may change the whole way we approach the Internet in the future,” according to the meeting’s web site.
Internationalized domain names combined with more proposals for generic top level domains increase the scope of the problem. We have seen ICANN cave in to U.S. politicians and lobbyists over the .XXX domain. To paraphrase an example from Bill Thompson, writing for the BBC, what happens when Saudi Arabia objects to a proposed .allah gTLD or the Vatican objects to .jesus? ICANN might well be influenced by the political goals of the current U.S. administration.
Making ICANN an international organization like the Red Cross or the International Olympic Committee, as some have proposed, won’t make things any better. Such a move might put ICANN out of the reach of most U.S. lawsuits, but it won’t put it out of the reach of political pressure. And frankly, given its transparency issues, many think that ICANN should remain accountable in some way – just ask anyone who purchased domain names through RegisterFly, a company that was an accredited ICANN registrar.
There are two ways to avoid the kind of pressure that ICANN may find itself under while it considers proposals for potentially controversial generic top level domains. One of them, of course, is to continue improving its transparency so that everyone can see the discussions and debate involved in the approval process. The other is to restrict itself to examining the technical aspects of any application and considering it on those merits. Swedish lawyer Mikael Pawlo wrote something five years ago concerning a domain name, vulgar in English, which was rejected in Sweden: “…in the long run, it is problematic to be the judge of good taste, especially in the global community.” ICANN should keep this in mind as it moves forward.
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