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ICANN Brussels – .xxx approved but not approved

The controversy over the .xxx top-level domain has for the last few years, at least from one point of view, centered on opposing views of whether it was already “approved”.

ICM Registry has long claimed that ICANN “approved” it in 2005, and believes the Independent Review Panel agreed with that position. ICANN said the opposite.

Regardless of what happened in Brussels yesterday, when the board grudgingly voted to reopen talks on .xxx (to a surprisingly muted audience response), the question of whether .xxx is “approved” is definitely not over yet.

ICM tweeted shortly after the ICANN’s board’s decision:

@ICMRegistry: We are delighted to announce that the #ICANN Board has approved the .xxx top-level domain.

But a couple of hours later, ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush told us at a press conference that it categorically was not “approved”.

In terms of getting its point across to the media, ICM’s message trumped ICANN’s, judging by the headlines currently scrolling past me on Google News.

I guess this boils down to a question of definitions.

From the ICANN perspective, a TLD is presumably not “approved” until a contract has been signed and the board has resolved to add it to the root.

The board’s decision yesterday merely sets out the track towards that eventuality, with a few hurdles scattered along the way. In conversation with ICM people, I get the impression they believe the hurdles are low and easily surmountable.

Crucially for ICM, the issue of community support, the stick with which ICANN nearly killed .xxx back in 2007, is now off the table. There will be a quick review of ICM’s books and technical capabilities, but the views of the porn industry now seem pretty much irrelevant.

The only real way I can see .xxx being derailed again now is if the Governmental Advisory Committee issues future advice that unequivocally opposes the TLD.

As Kieren McCarthy noted in some detail over on CircleID, the GAC has never had a hell of a lot of substantial advice to impart about .xxx in its official communiques, so it’s difficult to see where a clash could arise based on its previous missives.

But with the GAC currently using bogus “morality and public order” arguments to jerk everybody around with regards the next new TLD round, it’s not entirely impossible that it could lob one final grenade in ICM’s direction.

This story ain’t over yet.

ICANN Brussels – some of my coverage

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2010, Domain Policy

As you may have noticed from my relatively light posting week, it really is a lot easier to cover ICANN meetings remotely.

The only drawback is, of course, that you don’t get to meet, greet, debate, argue and inevitably get into drunken fist-fights with any of the lovely people who show up to these things.

So, on balance, I think I prefer to be on-site rather than off.

I was not entirely lazy in Brussels this week, however. Here are links to a few pieces I filed with The Register.

Cyber cops want stronger domain rules

International police have called for stricter rules on domain name registration, to help them track down online crooks, warning the industry that if it does not self-regulate, governments could legislate.

.XXX to get ICANN nod

ICANN plans to give conditional approval to .xxx, the controversial top-level internet domain just for porn, 10 years after it was first proposed.

Governments mull net censorship grab

Governments working within ICANN are pondering asking for a right of veto on new internet top-level domains, a move that would almost certainly spell doom for politically or sexually controversial TLDs.

The ICANN Brussels schwag bag – full details

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2010, Gossip

I’ve just landed at ICANN 38, in the really rather lovely setting of the Mont des Arts in Brussels.

Either I’m lost, or it’s a bit quiet at the moment, so I thought I’d get the most important news out of the way first – what’s in the schwag bag?

A heck of a lot more than the last ICANN meeting I attended, in Mar Del Plata, Argentina three five years ago.

Consider this a disclosure statement – I am now forever beholden to all of these companies, in no particular order:

  • T-shirt (Hanes) from ICANN.
  • T-shirt (Fruit of the Loom) from RegistryPro.
  • Empty Belgian chocolate bag from Iron Mountain (visit the booth for the choccie, presumably).
  • Fan with party invite printed on it from GMO (dotShop).
  • Pen from .CO Internet.
  • Keyring (foam) from dns.be.
  • Pen from Nic.ru.
  • Belgian chocolate box (full) from Centr.
  • Keyring (metal) from PIR (slogan: “PracticeSafeDNS.org”)
  • Badge/button (small) from .quebec.
  • Badge/button (huge) from ICM Registry (slogan: “Yes to .XXX”)
  • Bumper sticker from .quebec.
  • Notebook from PIR (.org “Celebrating 25 years”)
  • Playing cards (one-way backs) from Ausregistry.
  • “Multi-purpose retractable lock” from SIDN.
  • USB Flash drive (4GB) from Afnic.
  • Notebook from .eu.
  • A good-sized tree’s worth of flyers, booklets and sales pitches from the meeting’s sponsors – very strong contingent of new TLD players and consultancies.
  • The bag itself is sponsored by Afilias.

I heard a rumor that ICM was giving away .xxx vuvuzelas, but if they were they appear to have already run out.

Will ICANN punt .xxx in Brussels?

Is ICANN set to delay approval of the proposed .xxx top-level domain – again – in Brussels?

That’s my reading of ICANN’s latest document concerning ICM Registry’s long-running and controversial battle for a porn-only TLD.

This week, ICANN submitted its summary of the public comment period that ran to May 10. It’s a fair bit shorter than the one Kieren McCarthy compiled for ICM last month.

As usual, it’s written in a fairly neutral tone. But, if you’re feeling conspiratorial, the mask does slip on occasion, perhaps giving a sense of where the .xxx application could head next.

The ICANN summary occasionally breaks from reporting what a commenter actually said in order to highlight a potential problem they did not address.

Example (my emphasis):

Only two commenters directly addressed the question of further interaction with the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) on the .XXX sTLD Application. Both of those commenters were against seeking any further input from the GAC outside of any public comment period. Neither of these commenters – nor any other – addressed the potential violation of the ICANN Bylaws that could result from the Board’s failure to properly consider the advice of the GAC

This suggests, to me, that the ICANN board will be receiving advice to the effect that further GAC input needs to be forthcoming before it can move forward with .xxx.

If this is the case, the GAC might have to produce some advice before next Friday’s board meeting if ICM has any hope of getting back around the negotiating table prior to Cartagena in December.

That’s not the only reason to believe ICANN may punt .xxx again, however. Elsewhere in the report, we read (my emphasis again):

For those in favor of proceeding with the .XXX sTLD Application, many created an alternative option – that ICM and ICANN should proceed to a contract right away. There was substantial discussion on this point in the ICM submissions. Few commenters addressed the technical realities identified within the Process Report ‐ that prompt execution of the agreement negotiated in 2007 is not feasible.

The Process Report referenced says that it is not possible to go straight into contract talks because ICM first applied for .xxx more than six years ago.

This has been a bone of contention. ICM points to .post, which was applied for at the same time as .xxx and only approved late last year, as proof that the passage of time should be no barrier.

But ICANN president Rod Beckstrom doesn’t buy that comparison. He wrote to ICM (pdf) at the end of March noting that .post was backed by the International Postal Union, whereas .xxx is “sponsored” by IFFOR, an organization created by ICM purely to act as its sponsor.

In that letter, Beckstrom talks about due diligence to make sure ICM and IFFOR still satisfy financial and technical criteria, and a review of whether .xxx “can still satisfy the requisite sponsorship criteria”.

I’ll admit that I’m breaking out the crystal ball a bit here, and I’ve been wrong before, but I don’t think it’s looking great for ICM in Brussels.

Council of Europe wants ICANN role

Kevin Murphy, June 7, 2010, Domain Policy

The Council of Europe has decided it wants to play a more hands-on role in ICANN, voting recently to try to get itself an observer’s seat on the Governmental Advisory Committee.

The Council, which comprises ministers from 47 member states, said it “could encourage due consideration of fundamental rights and freedoms in ICANN policy-making processes”.

ICANN’s ostensibly technical mission may at first seem a bit narrow for considerations as lofty as human rights, until you consider areas where it has arguably failed in the past, such as freedom of expression (its clumsy rejection of .xxx) and privacy (currently one-sided Whois policies).

The Council voted to encourage its members to take a more active role in the GAC, and to “make arrangements” for itself to sit as an observer on its meetings.

It also voted to explore ways to help with the creation of a permanent GAC secretariat to replace the current ad hoc provisions.

The resolution was passed in late May and first reported today by IP Watch.

The Council of Europe is a separate entity to the European Union, comprising more countries. Its biggest achievement was the creation of the European Court of Human Rights.