Already a Bloomberg.com user?
Sign in with the same account.
A Florida company that's fighting for an all-porn section of the Internet isn't taking no for an answer. Earlier this month, Jupiter (Fla.)-based ICM Registry got word that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which regulates Web addresses and domain names, would not set up a .xxx domain. Now, ICM Registry is taking its battle to court. Its target: the U.S. government.
ICANN is under the direct oversight of the U.S. Commerce Dept. The lawsuit, filed May 19 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is aimed at unearthing communication between Commerce and ICANN that ICM Registry says will prove Commerce pressured the group to reject .xxx. At the heart of the .xxx domain row is whether the U.S. exerts undue ideological influence over how the global Internet is governed.
None of ICANN's ruling-committee members cited pressure from conservative groups or the Commerce Dept. as a reason for voting against the .xxx domain. But ICM Registry begs to differ and says a decision made on ideological grounds is illegitimate. "Commerce has been treating ICANN, an independent nonprofit, like a government agency without the authority to do so," says Stuart Lawley, Chairman and President of ICM Registry.
PROTEST LETTERS. ICM Registry isn't alone in that view. Members of the international community believe that ICANN should answer to an international body like the U.N., rather than to a U.S. government agency. The .xxx debate, they say, is an example of how the U.S. is mishandling its charge by letting domestic politics interfere with the Internet (see BW Online, 4/4/06, "A Hot Domain on Ice").
The Commerce Dept. has maintained that it plays a strictly technical role in overseeing ICANN. Critics disagree. Commerce publicly stood by ICANN's approval of the .xxx in June, 2005. But shortly afterward, it sent a letter to ICANN asking the body to delay final approval of the .xxx, saying it had received more than 6,000 letters protesting the domain. Critics say the strongly worded missive is evidence of bullying by Commerce. The issue was debated in several following meetings, until it was rejected by the ICANN committee by a 9-to-5 vote on May 10. Representatives from the Commerce Dept. said that as a policy it declines to comment on pending lawsuits.
After a March meeting in Wellington, New Zealand, of ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), the GAC asked ICM Registry to clearly state how it would fulfill certain "public interest benefits" as it administers .xxx. The benefits included an agreement from ICM to support the development of computer tools and programs to protect children, to take appropriate measures to restrict access to illegal content, and to agree to maintain data on registrants and assist law enforcement if need be.
PUBLIC CONCERNS. To meet such requirements, ICM said it would donate $10 of each .xxx registration fee toward a nonprofit organization it would set up. Called the International Foundation for Online Responsibility, the group would promote available technologies for protecting children and fund the development of systems that would help label and classify content on the Internet.
Most of the nine ICANN members who voted against the ICM proposal said they rejected the contract because it didn't meet the public-benefit requirements sufficiently, or show how it could make .xxx domains feasibly comply with all international law. "I retain concerns about [the initiatives in the ICM proposal] to actually be implemented in an international environment," ICANN Chief Executive and President Paul Twomey said in a statement accompanying his vote. Twomey didn't return calls seeking comment for this story.
In addition to filing the lawsuit, ICM Registry is also appealing ICANN's decision.