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How ICANN overruled governments on .xxx

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2011, 01:58:43 (UTC), Domain Registries

In approving the .xxx top-level domain, ICANN has for the first time explicitly overruled the wishes of international governments, as represented by its Governmental Advisory Committee.

In its rationale (pdf) for the decision, ICANN explains why it chose to disregard the GAC’s views.

There are two pieces of GAC advice that have been quite important. One was delivered in Wellington in 2007, the other was delivered yesterday

The Wellington GAC Communique noted that “several members of the GAC are emphatically opposed from a public policy perspective to the introduction of a .xxx sTLD.”

That was repeated during a terse, 10-minute “bylaws consultation” on .xxx yesterday, during which the the GAC also said “there is no active support of the GAC for the introduction of a .xxx TLD”.

ICANN chose to reject (kinda) both of those pieces of advice, on the basis of a quite literal interpretation — that GAC support was unnecessary and the advice was not specific enough:

There is no contradiction with GAC advice on this item. Active support of the GAC is not a required criteria in the 2004 sTLD round. Further, this is not advice from the GAC either to delegate .XXX or to not delegate .XXX, and therefore the decision to delegate .XXX is not inconsistent with this advice.

Unfortunately, this gives pretty much no clue to how the board will treat minority GAC positions in future, such as when some governments object to new gTLDs.

But companies planning to apply for potentially controversial TLDs can take heart from other parts of the rationale.

For example, the board did not buy the notion that .xxx should be rejected because some countries are likely to block it.

Saudi Arabia has already said it intends to filter out .xxx domains.

The GAC was worried that this kind of TLD blocking would lead to a fragmented root and competing national naming systems, but ICANN wasn’t so sure. The rationale reads:

The issue of governments (or any other entity) blocking or filtering access to a specific TLD is not unique to the issue of the .XXX sTLD. Such blocking and filtering exists today. While we agree that blocking of TLDs is generally undesirable, if some blocking of the .XXX sTLD does occur there’s no evidence the result will be different from the blocking that already occurs.

It’s been noted that some Muslim countries, for example, block access to Israel’s .il domain.

One director, George Sadowsky, dissented from the majority view, as is his wont. In a lengthy statement, he named stability as one reason he voted against .xxx.

He said “the future of the unified DNS could be at stake” and “could encourage moves to break the cohesiveness and uniqueness of the DNS”.

He drew a distinction between the filtering that goes on already and filtering that would come about as a direct result of an ICANN board action.

He was, however, in the minority, which makes proposed TLDs such a .gay seem likely to get less of a rough ride in future.

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Comments (10)

  1. Interesting times ahead with the approval of this extension and how it will work. I was very surprised that it was actually approved, wasn’t expecting that. I do think it’s a good thing though. The web needs cleaned up and a way to easily classify adult sites so that they can be avoided by those who don’t want to end up on them.

  2. Jason Higgins says:

    This was a triumph for those who stand to make money from registrations of .XXX domain names.

    This was never about child protection or else the price of the domain names would not have been set at a minimum of US$60.00 per year each.

    I am thinking of registering some ‘Vivid’ domain names and waiting for the porn company to come calling. They were opposed to .xxx but now they will be forced to protect a huge amount of open and potentially dangerous real estate. I will only be dealing in multiples of 100.

  3. […] I previously blogged, ICANN approved the .xxx contract over the objections of some members of the GAC, using the fact that the GAC’s official advice was vague enough to […]

  4. […] will be able to overrule its objections in accordance with its bylaws, in much the same way it just did with .xxx (in practice, I suspect .xxx may ultimately prove a fairly unique exception to the […]

  5. […] also didn’t buy ICANN’s rationale for its decision, saying it contained “mostly procedural arguements that do not adequately […]

  6. […] the GAC did not explicitly say “do not approve .xxx”, ICANN was able to rationalize its decision by saying it was not explicitly overruling governmental […]

  7. […] a piece of uncharacteristically straightforward advice (expect much more of this in the wake of the .xxx decision), GAC chair Heather Dryden wrote to ICANN: The GAC advises the ICANN Board to approve these […]

  8. […] noises in ICANN’s direction, saying that by approving the controversial .xxx domain over GAC advice, ICANN had showed that it cannot be trusted with new top-level domains. If the ICANN board chooses […]

  9. […] NTIA’s proposed “respect rule” alludes to the approval of .xxx, which the US and other governments believe was both not in the global public interest and […]

  10. […] was widely interpreted as a US attempt to avoid a repeat of the .xxx scandal, when ICANN approved the porn gTLD despite the unease voiced by its Governmental Advisory […]

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