Senators renew call for .xxx domains

Two Democrats propose a bill requiring feds to negotiate with ICANN to revive plans for the virtual red-light district.

Controversial plans to create an Internet red-light district would be revived under a new U.S. Senate proposal.

On Thursday, two Senate Democrats, of Arkansas and Max Baucus of Montana, introduced a bill called the "Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2006." The 11-page measure would require the U.S. Department of Commerce to work with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit organization that oversees domain names, to develop plans for a domain name system that would house material deemed "harmful to minors."

That material, according to the bill, includes any "communication," image, article, recording or other "obscene" matter, including actual or simulated sexual acts and "lewd exhibition of the genitals or post-pubescent female breast."

"By corralling pornography in its own domain, our bill provides parents with the ability to create a 'do not enter zone' for their kids," Pryor said in a statement. He is also a sponsor of a legislative proposal to levy a 25 percent tax on Internet pornographers .

The bill suggests, but does not require, that .xxx serve as the domain name ending. Any commercial Internet site or online service that "has as its principal or primary business the making available of material that is harmful to minors" would be required to move its site to that domain. Failure to comply with those requirements would result in civil penalties as determined by the Commerce Department.

It's unclear whether the measure will go very far. First of all, it could be struck down as unconstitutional, said Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Courts have determined that regulations restricting speech "must serve a compelling governmental interest, and be narrowly tailored and the least intrusive method of meeting the compelling need," Johnson wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com. The Supreme Court has decided that protecting children is a compelling interest, but because there are a host of "less intrusive" means of accomplishing the same goal, such as filtering and blocking software, the law probably wouldn't stand, he said.

More to the point, creating a virtual red-light district could actually undermine the politicians' goals, he argued: "Establishing a domain like this in essence sets out a flashing neon sign to minors and others that they can find porn here."

Dogged by similar complaints from an unlikely coalition of conservative family groups and the pornography industry, recent proposals for the .xxx domain have not fared well.

The new legislative proposal has met with opposition from the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group that has charged that .xxx domains would grant yet another opportunity to flood society with pornography. The Free Speech Coalition, which represents the adult entertainment industry, also voiced disapproval, saying the relocation project was unnecessary and would lead to the "ghettoization of protected speech."

Last summer, ICANN approved the concept , marking a complete turnaround from its objections in 2000 . But a firestorm of protests followed, including pleas by the Bush administration to put any action on hold. ICANN twice delayed its decision and ultimately decided last December to postpone a vote indefinitely , saying it needed more time to review the details.

 

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