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Net overseers abandon plan for online red-light district

By The Associated Press
05.11.06

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported on May 31 that ICM Registry Inc., was appealing the decision by the Internet's key oversight agency to reject a proposal to create a ".xxx" domain for porn sites. In its appeal, ICM accused the U.S. government of pressuring ICANN to reject ".xxx." ICM filed a separate, Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeking the release of information about the government's role.

NEW YORK — Faced with opposition from conservative groups and some pornography Web sites, the Internet's key oversight agency voted to reject a proposal to create a red-light district on the Internet.

Yesterday's decision from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers reverses its preliminary approval last June to create a ".xxx" domain name for voluntary use by the adult-entertainment industry.

ICANN had postponed making a final decision in August after the U.S. government stepped in just days before a scheduled meeting to underscore objections it had received, an intervention that had led some ICANN critics to question the organization's independence.

"The board was certainly very conscious of that (the controversy) ... but the heart of the decision today was not driven by a political consideration," ICANN Chief Executive Paul Twomey said in an interview yesterday that followed more than an hour of discussion in a closed teleconference meeting.

Twomey said the decision largely came down to whether the creation of ".xxx" might put ICANN in a difficult position of having to enforce all of the world's laws governing pornography, including ones that might require porn sites to use the domain. Speech-related laws, he noted, often conflict with one another.

He said concerns raised by various governments around the world did prompt the company proposing the domain, ICM Registry Inc. of Jupiter, Fla., to make changes in its bid, but the changes did not address all of the questions concerning enforcement.

ICANN's rejection of ".xxx" in a 9-5 vote ends, for now, a 6-year-old effort by ICM to establish a domain for the porn industry. ICANN first tabled its bid in 2000 out of fear it would be getting into content control.

ICM resubmitted its bid in 2004, this time structuring it with a policy-setting organization to free ICANN of that task. But the language of the proposed contract was vague, Twomey said, and a majority of the board felt that one interpretation could kick the task back to ICANN.

When the board initially voted last year to move forward with ".xxx," the contract details had yet to be written.

ICM argued the domain would help the $12 billion online porn industry clean up its act. Those using the domain would have to abide by yet-to-be-written rules designed to bar such trickery as spamming and malicious scripts.

Anti-porn advocates, however, countered that sites would be free to keep their current ".com" address, in effect making porn more easily accessible by creating yet another channel to house it.

And they said such a domain name would legitimize adults sites, which 2 in 5 Internet users visit each month, according to tracking by comScore Media Metrix.

Many porn sites also objected, fearing that such a domain would pave the way for governments — the United States or repressive regimes abroad — or even private industry to filter speech that is protected here under the First Amendment.

Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas have introduced legislation that would create a mandatory ".xxx." domain.

The porn industry trade group Free Speech Coalition believes a domain name for kid-friendly sites would be more appropriate.

Twomey said the board took the porn sites' concerns as a sign ICM did not fully represent the industry, a criteria required in the current round of domains.

Meanwhile, ICANN approved the creation of a domain name designed to help people manage their contact information online.

As envisioned, Internet users could buy a ".tel" name and set up a Web site with their latest digits — home, cell and work phone numbers, home and work e-mail addresses, instant messaging handles and perhaps even a MySpace profile.

The ".tel" domain could appear in use as early as this year.


Update
Net oversight agency again turns down '.xxx' domain for porn sites
Canadian government had warned that plan could put ICANN in business of content regulation. 03.30.07

Related

Constructing a red-light district on the Internet

By Paul K. McMasters Wouldn't a '.xxx' domain protect people from porn while protecting it from censorship? Yet folks on both sides of the pornography debate oppose the idea. 08.28.05

Indecency online

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