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ICANN urged to kill new TLD morality veto

Kevin Murphy, September 17, 2010, Domain Services

ICANN has been asked to eliminate references to “morality and public order” objections from its new top-level domain application process.

A cross-constituency working group has advised ICANN’s board of directors to scrap the term and to ensure that whatever replaces it does not enable individual governments to veto new TLDs based on their own local laws.

The so-called “MOPO” or “MAPO” part of the Draft Applicant Guidebook attracted criticism because ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee seemed to want to use it to grant themselves the right to block any TLD application they deemed too controversial.

The fear from the GAC was that if nations started blocking whole TLDs at their borders, it could ultimately lead to the fragmentation of the DNS root.

The fear elsewhere was that some edgy TLD applications, such as .gay or .sex, could be rejected due to the unilateral objections of backward regimes, harming freedom of speech.

But if ICANN incorporates the working group’s new recommendations into the next version of the DAG, that probably won’t be allowed to happen.

The group this week forwarded an interim report to the ICANN board for its consideration. While incomplete, it already carries a few recommendations that managed to find consensus.

Notably, the report recommends that, “National law not based on international principles should not be a valid ground for an objection”, which would seem to scupper any chances of Uganda or the Holy See blocking .gay, for example.

The working group has so far failed to reach consensus on how governmental objections should be registered and processed, but one option is:

The Applicant Guidebook should allow individual governments to file a notification (not an objection) that a proposed TLD string is contrary to their national law. The intention is that an “objection” indicates an intent to block, but a “notification” is not an attempt to block, but a notification to the applicant and the public that the proposed string is contrary to the government’s perceived national interest. However, a national law objection by itself should not provide sufficient basis for a decision to deny a TLD application.

The working group, which counted a few GAC members among its number, has managed to unanimously agree that the awkward term “morality and public order” should be dumped.

One possible contender to replace it is “Objections Based on General Principles of International Law”.

The group has also discussed the idea that a supermajority vote could be required if the board decides to reject a TLD application based on a MOPO objection.

The report is a work in progress. The working group expects to send an updated document to the ICANN board shortly before its retreat later this month.

Whether any of this will be acceptable to the GAC as a whole is up for debate.

ICANN posts .xxx contract for comment

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has just published the proposed contract for ICM Registry’s porn-only .xxx top-level domain, and over a dozen supporting documents.

Now the fun begins!

Another 30-day public comment period is now underway, which will likely see more concerted efforts by the Free Speech Coalition and its accidental allies on the religious right to have .xxx killed off.

It will also be interesting to see whether the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee decides to chip in with its $0.02.

The GAC has always been wary of the .xxx application and remains the tallest hurdle to jump before the TLD has a chance of being approved.

There’s a lot of information in these documents, including much more detail on IFFOR, the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, which will set the TLD’s policies.

I’m going to bury my nose in these docs, and will provide an update later if I find anything interesting, which seems likely.

Governments want morality veto on new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee wants to be able to kill off new top-level domain applications on cultural and religious grounds.

The GAC has finally broken its radio silence on the “morality and public order” or “MOPO” issue that was such a hot topic at the Brussels meeting in June.

A letter to ICANN (pdf), sent by Canadian GAC chair Heather Dryden, leaves little room for doubt where the GAC stands.

The GAC firmly believes that the absence of any controversial strings in the current universe of top-level domains (TLDs) to date contributes directly to the security and stability of the domain name and addressing system (DNS) and the universal resolvability of the system.

As a matter of principle… the GAC believes that the object of stability, security, and universal resolvability must be preserved in the course of expanding the DNS with the addition of new top-level domains.

This is actually quite powerful stuff.

The GAC is basically saying that no new TLDs should be introduced that would be unacceptable to the lowest common denominator world government.

Think Uganda, asked to make a call on .gay.

Think about any oppressed ethnic group without a territory that wants to apply for its own TLD.

The GAC wants ICANN to create a process for governments and others to object to TLD applications on religious, cultural, linguistic, national and geographical grounds.

It could even result in .xxx being objected to, even though it’s technically part of the 2005 round of new TLDs – the GAC wants the objection process to apply to “all pending and future TLDs”.

.XXX to run the ICANN gauntlet yet again

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2010, Domain Registries

Bring on the Christians!

The contract between ICANN and ICM Registry to run the .xxx adults-only top-level domain is to be submitted for an ICANN public comment period, again.

ICANN’s board resolved yesterday to publish the proposed registry agreement for comment for at least 30 days.

But it has not yet decided whether to refer the deal to its Governmental Advisory Committee, which remains ICM’s major potential pitfall on its route to the root.

As long as the public comment period kicks off quite soon, the ICANN board could be in a position to make that call at its weekend retreat, September 24.

The .xxx application has generated more public comment over the years than all other ICANN public comment periods combined.

Its last such period, earlier this year, saw thousands of comments, most of them filed in response to outreach by right-wing American Christian groups.

Objections are also regularly received from members of the Free Speech Coalition, a porn trade group.

I expect this forum will be no different. It will be interesting to see what tactics are rolled out this time, given previous failures.

Here’s the meat of the latest resolution:

RESOLVED (2010.08.05.21), upon receipt of ICM’s application documentation, ICANN Staff is authorized to post ICM’s supporting documents and proposed registry agreement for the .XXX sTLD for public comment for a period of no less than 30 days.

RESOLVED (2010.08.05.22), upon completion of public comment period, ICANN Staff shall provide the Board with a summary of the public comments and shall make a recommendation to the Board as to whether the proposed registry agreement for the .XXX sTLD is consistent with GAC advice.

RESOLVED (2010.08.05.23), once the Board has received the above public comment summary and recommendation from the ICANN Staff regarding the proposed registry agreement for the .XXX sTLD, the Board shall at its next possible meeting, consider this recommendation, and determine, consistent with the ICANN Bylaws, whether a GAC consultation shall be required.

Judgment day for .xxx and .jobs

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors will today meet to decide the fate of the .xxx and .jobs top-level domains.

ICM Registry will find out whether its contract to run .xxx will have to face a potentially lengthy review by ICANN’s notoriously slow-footed Governmental Advisory Committee.

Employ Media will find out whether it will be allowed to relax its registration rules to allow non-company-name .jobs domains.

If the board decides no further GAC intervention is needed, ICM will be on a fast track to having its TLD considered for delegation in Cartagena this December.

If Employ Media’s proposal is rejected, it faces more years in the wilderness of managing a registration base in the low tens of thousands.

I have a track record of lousy predictions, but I’m going to go out on a limb again and make a low-confidence prediction that both registries are going to get what they want.

I’m not sure if it’s been noted before, but there are some strong similarities between the two TLDs and their proposals.

In the case of .xxx, some of the main opponents of the domain have been the adult industry itself. With the .jobs liberalization, the loudest outcry has come from jobs boards.

Both are essentially cases of a registry proposing something that makes good business sense for itself, but which is not necessarily what a significant portion of its would-be constituents want.

In the case of ICM, lack of support from the porn business was what originally killed off the application (at least, that was the official line), a decision that ICANN was recently forced to reverse if not recant.

In the case of .jobs, ICANN’s recent summary and analysis of the well-attended public comment period, which the board will be given prior to voting, may be a telling.

Most of the opposition to the .jobs deal was organized by the International Association of Employment Web Sites, which itself sent a long letter spelling out precisely why it thinks the scheme is bogus.

Of the 2,600 words IAEWS submitted, ICANN’s summary and analysis document quotes just two sentences, one of which is this:

“Neither human resources professionals employed in corporate human resources (‘HR’) departments nor executive search/staffing firms [which are part of the .JOBS community] are eligible for membership in IAEWS.”

The quote is pulled from the introduction of the IAEWS letter, rather than the substance of its objection, and the text in square brackets is ICANN’s own insertion.

I can’t think of any reason that text is worth quoting other than in order to dilute the significance of the IAEWS’ arguments against the .jobs liberalization.

Indeed, the document uses more wordage to describe the nature of the IAEWS letter-writing campaign than it does the content of its letters, which can’t look good for the IAEWS.

Employ Media’s response to the IAEWS letter is quoted at greater length, particularly the bit where it compares its own plans to the new gTLD program.

While they claim that the addition of occupation, industry and geographical identifiers at the second level within the .JOBS sTLD will lead to increased confusion within the marketplace, it is hard to reconcile this argument to ICANN’s extensive public policy work and implementation plan in connection with the new gTLD process. The same fundamental economic basis for going forward with the whole new gTLD initiative also applies to this .JOBS RSEP request; these issues should not be re debated and should not delay or deny approval of the .JOBS RSEP request.

If you’re an ICANN board member, aware of how much of ICANN’s credibility is tied up with the new TLD program, can you really argue with that?

Of course, board and staff don’t always agree, so I may be way off the plot here, but it seems to me that .jobs is likely to very soon become a considerably more open namespace.