XXX or NOT?

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A couple of months ago, ICANN, the organization responsible for Internet addresses, approved an .xxx domain, which is supposed to be “porn-friendly.” The idea is to encourage porners to go to a single domain so they can easily be blocked by those who don’t want porn to be accessed on their computers.

Just before it was going to put into place, a number of governments, including, but not limited to the U.S. government, raised objections to the immediate implementation of .xxx, and wanted to talk about it some more.

There seems to be two groups opposed to this idea:

People Against Porn: Groups like the U.S.-based Family Research Council oppose the measure not because they’re against a porn domain, per se, but because they want porn wiped off the face of the earth.

As they put it:

“Pornographers will be given even more opportunities to flood our homes, libraries and society with pornography through the .XXX domain. The Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet’s nonprofit body with authority for development, has indicated that it will establish an .XXX domain for porn Web sites. To some this may initially seem like a good idea but it is one that has been considered and rejected as ineffectual for years. This will NOT require pornographers who are on the .com domain to relocate to the .XXX domain.

“Some naively suggest that passing a new law to force pornographers to move to .XXX will solve the problem but that will not work either. Law means nothing to hardcore pornographers. There already is a law prohibiting them from selling hardcore porn on the Internet-anywhere on the Internet- yet they have been doing if for years.

“Attorney General Gonzales is launching a major effort to prosecute the porn industry. He intends to smash these criminal enterprises on the Internet and elsewhere with a new obscenity strike force. This is the only way to handle hardcore pornographers.”

They also point out elsewhere that an .XXX domain gives at least some legitimacy to such enterprises. More importantly, a porn domain will be considered by many to be the solution to complaints about porn from folks like the Family Research Council.

Pornography is an especially difficult matter to deal with or even define in the United States because there is no single national standard for what is obscene. Based on pre-Internet Supreme Court decisions, whether something is obscene or not is partly determined by where you see it: what may be OK in New York City may be obscene in Oklahoma City. This standard obviously doesn’t jive with the Internet too well.

On the one hand, the current situation leaves children wide-open to porn access. On the other hand, much pornography is very legal in many parts of the world. You’re just not going to come up with a universal definition that will make everybody happy.

Creating an .XXX domain is a political decision, not just a matter of technical record-keeping.

And once you bring politics into the mix, and need a bureaucracy to implement the politics, politicians and bureaucrats come crawling out of the woodwork, and not just in the U.S.

Bureaucrats Smell A Boondoggle

As it stands now, the organizations that handle the technical details of the Internet have been pretty libertarian. They do the minimally-required housekeeping and bookkeeping needed to keep it functional, and that’s that. They certainly don’t try to govern the Internet like a government would.

There are those who would like to change that, a lot. The United Nations has been having a lot of meetings about this lately. You can find out more about what they want to do, including a recently issued report on the matter, here. If you really want to get into the trenches insofar as what these people want, look here

You don’t have to read very much or very deeply to figure out what these people want: these people want to take over and rule the Internet. I don’t mean “do the same things ICANN is doing,” I mean govern the Internet.

I can smell a bureaucrat wanting a job and organization a continent or two away. These folks want to take the job of little ICANN over and turn it into a big UN bureaucracy, which means lots and lots of politically-connected jobs mostly occupied by those in have-not countries concocting endless schemes to order the haves to pay for the have-nots. You read the documents linked above, and #^$%, they’re not even trying to hide it!

It’s possible you may not like this idea.

Just to take one small example of the big thoughts these folks have, how would you like to have your domain fees increased to pay for better Internet connections in the Third World? Take three guesses what these folks want to do.

Many of these folks are objecting to ICANN’s decision, not really because they’re against the idea of a porn domain, per se (they may or may not be). The “what” is just an excuse to object to who is deciding this, namely, Not Them.

You need not be a foaming-at-the-mouth libertarian, chauvinistic American or porn magnet to think that a self-proclaimed UN agency might not be the best managers of the Internet. Even if you think that such an organization is inevitable, you need not think this has to be the way to go.

What Should Be Done?

Personally, I got the creeps reading the UN stuff. Given what I know about a lot of UN agencies, I don’t want these people in charge; this is like giving the neighborhood kids the keys to the candy store and taking a cruise around the world.

So far, the United States has taken the position that it will not hand ICANN’s job over to the UN. Given what the UN wants to do and how, this is a very good idea.

However, the U.S. statement also says that “the United States will continue to provide oversight so that ICANN maintains its focus and meets its core technical mission.”

Creating an .xxx domain is not the same thing as creating a .biz domain. It is inherently a much more political decision, and ICANN really shouldn’t be making political decisions. If you start making political decisions, then politicians want in just as insistently as salmon want to swim upstream during mating season.

So the United States would be wise to stop this .xxx domain from becoming a reality, not because the Family Research Council doesn’t like it, but because ICANN shouldn’t start acting like the Internet Government by default and give the UN reason to push its boondoggle.

Now may be a good time to begin talking about a future international organization to handle the Internet, but this is going to need a lot of talk.

Until a very long, hard negotiation takes place, though, it would be foolish for the U.S. to hand over the long-term future of the Internet to a bunch of bureaucratic wannabe volunteers.

This isn’t a matter of American arrogance, or a belief that only the U.S. should run things forever. It’s a matter of eventually handing these over to the right kind of organization.

Anything less would be obscene. 🙂

Ed

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