.XXX Legislation Introduced

Michael Hayes
WASHINGTON – The effort to segregate adult entertainment websites has once again picked up steam. Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., introduced legislation that would establish a mandatory .XXX top-level domain.

The proposed Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2006 directs the U.S. Department of Commerce to order ICANN to approve the .XXX domain within 30 days of enactment. Under the legislation, all sites that publish “material harmful to minors” would be required to register under the .XXX domain or face civil penalties.

According to Tom Hymes, communications director for the Free Speech Coalition, the most pressing issue with respect to the bill is practicality.

“The bill just doesn’t make sense in a broader context,” Hymes said. “Giving ICANN 60 days to comply won’t even work. They [ICANN] have a process and it doesn’t work like that.”

While the bill certainly raises free speech issues, Hymes cautioned that attorneys for the FSC had not yet been able to fully digest and analyze the constitutional questions. However, should the legislation become law, the issue will certainly be headed for the courts.

A bigger current concern for the FSC, Hymes stressed, was that the bill simply fails to address the larger issue: keeping children safe online.

“It’s really a Band-Aid, and not a very good one,” Hymes said. “This bill tries to create an Internet ghetto, and it will for companies that comply. But many more companies will just move offshore.”

Concern over the enforcement issue highlights a broader debate on filtering. While Congress has sought to impose filtering on the adult entertainment industry, the FSC favors a .KIDS domain, which would filter-in sites parents approve for their children.

As for what will happen next, Hymes could only speculate.

“We’ll welcome any chance to lobby Congress on our position; if there are hearings, we will offer testimony,” Hymes told XBiz. “But politically, we don’t know what will happen. The bill could find support among Republicans and become an issue or it could stagnate; it’s probably an uphill battle.”

The debate over .XXX has been around for several years. In 2005, ICANN approved the domain for those sites that wished to register voluntarily. Later that year, some members of Congress began considering the possibility of mandating registration.