CDT Asks Government to Stay Out of .XXX Decision

Matt O'Conner
WASHINGTON — Citing free speech issues, John Morris, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, recently sent a letter to Commerce Department Assistant Secretary Michael Gallagher requesting that Commerce remove itself from the .XXX decision-making process.

In August, Gallagher successfully petitioned ICANN to postpone its contract with the registry for the controversial adults-only domain, ICM Registry.

In his letter to Gallagher, Morris protests Commerce’s role in pressuring ICANN to delay approval of the .XXX sponsored top-level domain.

While Morris asserts that the CDT neither supports nor opposes the domain, he says he sees great danger in direct government intervention on issues such as .XXX.

Morris says he is particularly troubled by Commerce’s actions because “in this instance… the delay in approval treads dangerously close to crossing a well-settled First Amendment line — potentially stifling the creation of a forum intended for a specific type of constitutionally protected speech.”

Morris is referring to the fact that Commerce’s interference in the .XXX process was a direct response to conservative lobbying groups who fear the domain would help to facilitate the spread of pornography on the Internet — an action that he says amounts to de facto censorship of lawful speech.

Webmasters have expressed their own concerns over .XXX. At an August 2005 Internext seminar, webmasters and industry representatives lashed out at ICM representatives. Many fear that an adults-only domain will give the government justification for forcing adult businesses into an online red-light district.

J. Beckwith Burr, former director of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration who is now working as outside counsel for ICM Registry, recently wrote to ICANN to point out a YNOT message board posting in which “three small adult site operators discuss writing to members of Congress and the Family Research Council to stir up opposition to .XXX by posing as concerned parents, church goers, librarians, etc.” (YNOT's Conner Young tells XBiz that the thread in question was intended as a joke).

While ICM Registry adamantly asserts that it has taken precautions to ensure that .XXX registration would remain voluntary, several legislators have sponsored bills in recent years that would make migration mandatory, helping to feed webmasters’ fears.

Also, Mary B. Conyers, founder of Protect Every Child, recently sent an email to her organization’s members urging them to push ICANN to approve .XXX specifically so that Congress can renew efforts to segregate adult sites on the Internet.

“Without a mandatory movement to .XXX, children and families will continue to be devastated by the pornography that threatens their existence when they stumble across it through deceptively named websites,” Conyers wrote. “Now that .XXX will be in place, it will be easier for the government… to make this a mandatory action.”

ICM Registry had intended to begin accepting registrations by the end of this year, but ICANN has avoided taking further action on .XXX for two consecutive months, leaving the domain in limbo.