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Did Europe ask America to block .xxx?

Kevin Murphy, May 5, 2011, Domain Policy

The European Commission may have asked the US Department of Commerce to block or delay the .xxx top-level domain, it has emerged.

I’ve heard rumors for a few weeks that Neelie Kroes, vice president of the Commission responsible for the digital economy, wrote to Commerce in April, asking it to delay the go-live date for .xxx.

Today, a reply from Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary at Commerce, has emerged, published on the blog of Polish technology consultant Andrzej Bartosiewicz.

It appears to confirm the rumors. Strickling wrote:

While the Obama Administration does not support ICANN’s decision, we respect the multi-stakeholder Internet governance process and do not think it is in the long-term best interest of the United States or the global Internet community for us unilaterally to reverse the decision.

It’s certainly possible to infer from this that Kroes had asked the US to exercise its unique powers over the domain name system’s root database to block or delay .xxx.

The Kroes letter was evidently sent April 6, about 10 days before the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of Commerce, instructed VeriSign to add .xxx to the root.

In his April 20 response, Strickling shared Kroes’ “disappointment” with ICANN’s decision, saying the organization “ignored the clear advice of governments worldwide, including the United States”.

He said the decision “goes against the global public interest and will spur more efforts to block the Internet” and agreed that ICANN “needs to make to engage governments more effectively”.

To that end, Strickly offered to fly to Brussels to meet with Kroes to conduct a “senior level exchange” on how to better work with ICANN.

While it’s probably too late for any of this to affect .xxx, operated by ICM Registry, it is a clear sign that governments are taking a renewed interest in ICANN’s work.

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee issued weak advice on .xxx, noting merely that no governments outright supported it, and that “several” were opposed. The was no consensus.

Because 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 advice.

At least three countries — Saudi Arabia, India and Kenya — have already indicated that they may block .xxx domains within their borders.

UPDATE: Kroes did in fact ask Commerce to delay .xxx.

.xxx domains go live

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2011, Domain Registries

Click here: icmregistry.xxx, then come back.

That’s right. After ICM Registry’s almost 11 years of campaigning, and almost $20 million in legal and other expenses, .xxx domain names are actually live in the domain name system.

ICANN, IANA, the US government and VeriSign, in that order, have all agreed to delegate the internet’s newest gTLD, and the first few .xxx domains went live within the last couple hours.

The domains sex.xxx and porn.xxx are now also resolving to placeholder sites. They’re currently “safe for work”, but possibly not for much longer.

IANA has a .xxx page, complete with a lengthy delegation report (in a snazzy new pdf format) that broadly explains the convoluted process ICANN used to ultimately, albeit reluctantly, approve the TLD.

ICANN asks the US to cut it loose

Kevin Murphy, March 25, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has officially requested the loosening of its contractual ties to the US government.

In a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (pdf), ICANN president Rod Beckstrom said the US should finally make good on its promise to privatize the management of the internet’s naming and addressing resources.

Currently, ICANN manages the so-called IANA functions, which give it powers over the domain name system’s root zone, under a no-fee procurement deal with the NTIA.

That contract is up for renewal in September, and the NTIA recently issued a Notice Of Inquiry, soliciting public comments on how the IANA functions should be handled in future.

In Beckstrom’s response to the NOI, he says that a US government procurement contract is not the most suitable way to oversee matters of global importance.

Its close links to the NTIA are often cited by other governments as proof that ICANN is an organization that operates primarily in the interest of the US.

Beckstrom said there is “no compelling reason for these functions to be performed exclusively pursuant to a U.S. Government procurement contract.”

He noted that the original plan, when ICANN was formed by the Clinton administration in 1998, was to transition these functions to the private sector no later than September 2000.

The privatization of the DNS is, in effect, 11 years late.

Beckstrom wrote:

The IANA functions are provided for the benefit of the global Internet: country code and generic top-level domain operators; Regional Internet Registries; the IETF; and ultimately, Internet users around the world. Applying U.S. federal procurement law and regulations, the IANA functions should be performed pursuant to a cooperative agreement.

His position was not unanticipated.

At the start of ICANN’s San Francisco meeting last week, Beckstrom and former chairman Vint Cerf both said that a “cooperative agreement” would be a better way for the US to manage IANA.

VeriSign’s role in root zone management is currently overseen by this kind of arrangement.

The NTIA has specifically asked whether IANA’s three core areas of responsibility – domain names, IP addresses and protocol parameters – should be split between three different entities.

Beckstrom also argued against that, saying that there are “many examples of cross-functional work”, and that ICANN already has the necessary expertise and relationships in place to handle all three.

The NOI (pdf) is open until end of play next Thursday, March 31. Half a dozen responses have already been filed here.

At least one respondent believes the IANA powers could be broken up.

US upset with ICANN over .xxx

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2011, Domain Policy

The US government has expressed disappointment with ICANN for approving the .xxx top-level domain, surprising nobody.

Fox News is reporting Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce and one of ICANN’s keynote speakers at the just-concluded San Francisco meeting:

We are disappointed that ICANN ignored the clear advice of governments worldwide, including the US. This decision goes against the global public interest, and it will open the door to more Internet blocking by governments and undermine the stability and security of the Internet.

As I reported Friday, ICANN used a literal interpretation of its Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice in order to make it appear that it was not disagreeing with it at all.

Essentially, because the GAC didn’t explicitly say “don’t delegate .xxx”, the ICANN board of directors was free to do so without technically being insubordinate.

Whether the GAC knew in advance that this was the board’s game plan is another question entirely.

Strickling is of course duty-bound to complain about .xxx – no government wanted to be seen to associate themselves with pornography – but he’s in a unique position to do something about it.

Strickling heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the named “Administrator” of the DNS root and ergo ICANN’s overseer.

It’s within his power to refuse to instruct VeriSign to inject .xxx into the DNS root system, but it’s a power few observers expect him to exercise.

As Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project noted yesterday:

If the US goes crazy and interferes with XXX’s entry into the root it will completely kill ICANN and open a Pandora’s box for governmental control of the DNS, a box that will never be closed.

Dire consequences indeed. It’s unlikely that the NTIA would risk killing off the ICANN project after so many years over a bit of T&A.

Beckstrom calls for ICANN’s independence

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN president Rod Beckstrom has called for the organization to be allowed to further loosen its ties to the US government.

The two-hour opening ceremony of its 40th public meeting, here in San Francisco this morning, had a heavy focus on ICANN’s relationship with governments, and looked as much to its roots in the Clinton administration as it addressed more immediate concerns internationally.

Beckstrom and others tackled the renewal of the soon-to-expire IANA contract, with which the US grants ICANN many of its powers over the domain name system, head-on.

Beckstrom said some have expressed “a belief that the US government should live up to its 1998 White Paper commitment to transfer management of the IANA functions to the private sector-led organization entrusted to manage the DNS, which is ICANN. ”

That would mean severing one of the most frequently criticized links between ICANN and the USA.

In a press conference later, he confirmed that this is in fact his belief, saying that internet governance is “evolving behind the curve” as internet usage grows internationally.

The US handing the keys to the internet over to ICANN doesn’t appear to be immediately likely, however. But there may be some ways to continue to phase out the US special relationship on a shorter term basis.

Beckstrom took the stage shortly after Lawrence Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the US Department of Commerce, made some frank criticisms.

While stressing the Obama administration’s commitment to what he called “multistakeholderism” in internet governance, he had a few pointed remarks to make about ICANN’s decision-making process.

He accused the ICANN board of directors of “picking winners and losers” by making decisions in situations where the community has been unable to reach a consensus policy.

He singled out two recent policies where he believes ICANN has failed to sufficiently rationalize its decisions: registry-registrar integration and economic studies into new TLDs.

The criticisms are not new, and many of them may well go away if and when ICANN implements the recommendations of its Accountability and Transparency Review Team.

My initial sense is that the fact Strickling was able to speak so frankly and so publicly about the administration’s feelings is an encouraging sign of ICANN’s maturity.

And Beckstrom’s response was equally ballsy, urging ICANN’s supporters to lobby the NTIA for a loosening of US-ICANN ties.

The NTIA’s Notice Of Inquiry regarding IANA, which floats the idea of breaking up the IANA functions and possibly assigning them to three different entities, was released a few weeks ago.

During his address this morning, former ICANN chair Vint Cerf put forth the view that this kind of government procurement contract may be an inappropriate mechanism for overseeing IANA functions:

I believe that that concept of procuring service from ICANN really ought to change to become a cooperative agreement because I believe that format expresses more correctly the relationship between ICANN and the Department of Commerce.

Beckstrom evidently agrees with Cerf. At the press conference, he pointed out that the disadvantage of a procurement contract is that it’s short term, undermining confidence in ICANN.

It also requires ICANN to run the IANA to the benefit of the American people, rather than the international community, he said. This obviously can reinforce the perception in some parts of the world that ICANN has an untenable American bias.

“A cooperative agreement seems more befitting of the relationship the NTIA and ICANN has developed,” he said, noting that this is currently the structure of NTIA’s relationship with VeriSign.

The Number Resource Organization may give a further clue to ICANN’s game plan in this email (pdf) published today, in which the NRO says:

We strongly believe that no government should have a special role in managing, regulating or supervising the IANA functions.

The NRO suggests that ICANN, through these coming negotiations, should advocate for a staged reduction of the level of DoC’s oversight to IANA. This process could possibly involve a transitionfrom a contract to a cooperation agreement, and ultimately arrival at a non-binding arrangement, such as an affirmation of commitments

Beckstrom now wants your help to make this happen. During his keynote, he urged the ICANN community to make its disparate views known to the NTIA, “openly and in writing”.

“This is the chance to add your voice to those determining the fate of the IANA function,” he said. “If your voice is to be heard, you must speak up.”

“When all voices are heard, no single voice can dominate an organization – not even governments. Not even the government that facilitated its creation,” Beckstrom said.

Details about how to respond to the NOI can be found in this PDF.