.xxx Domain Scrapped

May 11, 2006

From MSNBC:

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

The decision from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers reverses its preliminary approval last June to create “.xxx” domain names for voluntary use by the adult entertainment industry.

Paul Twomey, ICANN’S chief executive, said the decision largely came down to whether by creating the “.xxx” domain ICANN might be put in a position of having to enforce all of the world’s laws governing pornography.

e said board members were aware of the controversy, but “the heart of the decision today was not driven by a political consideration.”

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.

Turns Back 6-Year-Long Effort

ICANN’s rejection in a 9-5 vote ends, for now, a 6-year-old effort by ICM Registry Inc. of Jupiter, Fla., 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.

The company 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.

Objections From Both Sides

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 say such a domain name would legitimize adult sites, which two out of every five 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.”

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

Dot-Tel Gets Green Light

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.

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New .xxx Senate Proposal

March 21, 2006

From CNET News:

Controversial plans to create an Internet red-light district would be revived under a new U.S. Senate proposal.

On Thursday, two Senate Democrats, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Max Baucus of Montana, introduced a bill called the “Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2006.” The 11-page measure would require the U.S. Department of Commerce to work with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit organization that oversees domain names, to develop plans for a domain name system that would house material deemed “harmful to minors.”

That material, according to the bill, includes any “communication,” image, article, recording or other “obscene” matter, including actual or simulated sexual acts and “lewd exhibition of the genitals or post-pubescent female breast.”

“By corralling pornography in its own domain, our bill provides parents with the ability to create a ‘do not enter zone’ for their kids,” Pryor said in a statement. He is also a sponsor of a legislative proposal to levy a 25 percent tax on Internet pornographers.

The bill suggests, but does not require, that .xxx serve as the domain name ending. Any commercial Internet site or online service that “has as its principal or primary business the making available of material that is harmful to minors” would be required to move its site to that domain. Failure to comply with those requirements would result in civil penalties as determined by the Commerce Department.

It’s unclear whether the measure will go very far. First of all, it could be struck down as unconstitutional, said Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Courts have determined that regulations restricting speech “must serve a compelling governmental interest, and be narrowly tailored and the least intrusive method of meeting the compelling need,” Johnson wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com. The Supreme Court has decided that protecting children is a compelling interest, but because there are a host of “less intrusive” means of accomplishing the same goal, such as filtering and blocking software, the law probably wouldn’t stand, he said.

More to the point, creating a virtual red-light district could actually undermine the politicians’ goals, he argued: “Establishing a domain like this in essence sets out a flashing neon sign to minors and others that they can find porn here.”

Dogged by similar complaints from an unlikely coalition of conservative family groups and the pornography industry, recent proposals for the .xxx domain have not fared well.

The new legislative proposal has met with opposition from the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group that has charged that .xxx domains would grant yet another opportunity to flood society with pornography. The Free Speech Coalition, which represents the adult entertainment industry, also voiced disapproval, saying the relocation project was unnecessary and would lead to the “ghettoization of protected speech.”

Last summer, ICANN approved the concept, marking a complete turnaround from its objections in 2000. But a firestorm of protests followed, including pleas by the Bush administration to put any action on hold. ICANN twice delayed its decision and ultimately decided last December to postpone a vote indefinitely, saying it needed more time to review the details.