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E-Mails Suggest Bush Administration Pressured ICANN to Nix '.Xxx' Domain

Newly released e-mails allege U.S. government officials pressured a leading Internet authority into voting against creating a kind of red-light district for adult Web sites.

The apparent involvement of the U.S. Department of Commerce, President Bush's chief political operative Karl Rove and others is significant.

If true, it means the U.S. government violated terms of a complicated arrangement it has with ICANN, the Internet authority that voted 9-5 two weeks ago not to OK the .xxx proposal.

What ICM Registry, the company that proposed the top-level domain, wanted was permission to distribute Web addresses that ended in .xxx to be used exclusively by adult entertainment sites.

The proposal won support from Wired Safety and Wired Kids, the Internet Content Rating Association and other child-safety groups because of the way it was expected to make it easier for authorities and parents to police the Internet.

Detractors said it just would make it that much easier to find porn.

ICANN voted it down 9-5, after seemingly being on track to approve of the effort.

Since the ICANN vote, ICM Registry has made public e-mails, here in PDF form, between members of the Department of Commerce, various other branches of the federal government and ICANN.

The company had asked for the communications earlier under a Freedom of Information Act request.

After discovering many of the e-mails had been redacted, ICM on May 19 asked a judge in Washington, D.C., to force the Department of Commerce to fill in the blanks.

ICM says the e-mails show how the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce, was subjected to intense pressure to intervene on behalf of the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, two socially conservative lobbying organizations.

NTIA members started keeping watch on how the .xxx proposal was reported in the media, drafted letters to ICANN protesting the .xxx domain, helped facilitate meetings between ICANN and concerned groups and otherwise "marshaled our resources at ICANN," as one NTIA official put it in an e-mail.

As the e-mail blitz was going on, Bush's main political operative, Karl Rove, met with James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, who wanted to air his opposition to the .xxx proposal, ICM learned through other sources.

A secret "Stop .XXX" order went in effect shortly after the meeting, according to the documents.

This was all taking place despite a ban on such activities, laid out in a memorandum of understanding which allowed the Department of Commerce to work on a particular project with ICANN involving domain name servers.

"The documents released so far reveal that the United States government exerted undue political influence on ICANN's consideration of the .xxx domain application, and treated an independent corporation as a client agency of the United States government despite a lack of any legitimate authority to do so," wrote Stuart Lawley, ICM Registry president, in an e-mail to eWEEK.

Comments were not immediately available from ICANN, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council or the NTIA officials who took part in the e-mail communications.

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Copyright © 2006 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.