Time to look at a sensitive, exponentially issue-inducing question: who should police the internet and how much policing should they, or anyone, be allowed to do? In this blog, we will be looking at the topic of domain name policing in particular.
We are constantly reminded of the anonymity and opportunity the internet affords its users. These freedoms are one of the founding principles of the internet: that it be an open canvas on which anything can be painted and anyone we want can view it. The internet was supposed to be a virtual land where the most typical, average person could stake a claim and make a small piece of it their own.
Like all newly-settled worlds, however, it cannot remain so forever. Various organizations have come about to monitor the internet and keep its users and their information safe. The Internet Corporation for the Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit in contract with the U.S. government, exists to manage internet addresses and oversee the addition of new domain suffixes. The most popular suffixes currently in use are .com, .net, and .org.
A recent article on CNET.com once again brings to light the issue of domain name – and ultimately internet – governance. The United States government, among other governments both national and local, is looking to gain more power to allow or deny domain names. This has been a battle that has been raging in the internet background for as long as it has existed, and is a topic filled with shades of gray. For the past seven years, the domain suffix .xxx has been contested over by three camps: those who wish to use it, those who wish that it not be used at all, and those who wish not to be forced to use it.
Many adult content webmasters want to have the suffix .xxx be as useable as .com or .org, to give them their own space on the internet and make them easier to find. Currently .xxx is not a functioning domain. The United States government and many conservative organizations do not want the .xxx domain to exist, seeing it as comparable to allowing an adult video store on the same block as the white house. On another end of the argument are those who see this new domain as a way to keep all of these adult content websites in one centralized location, so no one can accidentally stumble upon them or so they can be blocked more easily. Some adult content webmasters, and some webmasters who have sex education information on their websites, or others whose main purpose is not adult content but some exists on their site, do not want to be forced to join this new domain.
Over 115 new domain name proposals are expected this year, and some raise controversies, such as the .gay domain. Whose responsibility – or right – is it to say whether or not the .gay or .freetibet domains can be used? If the former were used, it may upset millions of conservatives. If the latter were used, it may upset a government with rule over billions of people. Yet what about the people who want to use those names? What about their rights? They aren’t breaking any laws.
The debate over domain name allowance is explosive because it induces issues about freedom of speech and how much of a role governments should be able to play in the direction and access of the internet. Another example of governmental power over the internet is seen recently in Egypt, where the government shut down the internet in the entire country in an attempt to control its people. Is it right for a government to control something that belongs to no one, and yet belongs to everyone?