The politics of .xxx

If the porn domain remains voluntary, that's one thing, says CNET New.com's Declan McCullagh. But what happens if politicians make it mandatory?

Now that pornographers have a domain name suffix reserved exclusively for them, look for politicians to become more eager than ever before to target sexually explicit Web sites.

Last week, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers approved the creation of .xxx, a kind of virtual red-light district that's scheduled to go live by the end of the year.

Permitting sexually explicit material online is, of course, only objectionable among advocacy groups that would love to outlaw anything as daring as "Heather Has Two Mommies." (Nobody is forced to click on links pointing to raunch and ribaldry, after all.)

But the politics of .xxx are more complex--and worrisome.

If .xxx remains truly voluntary, that's one thing. But what happens if politicians make it mandatory? What if controversial material like information on homosexuality, abortion and sex education comes under pressure to move to a virtual area that can be easily blocked?

Permitting sexually explicit material online is only objectionable among advocacy groups that would love to outlaw anything as daring as "Heather Has Two Mommies."

This is no mere theoretical concern. ICANN's decision represents an abrupt turnabout from the group's earlier stance: In November 2000, the ICANN staff rejected the first proposal for an .xxx registry.

Then politicians began to ratchet up the pressure. At a hearing a few months later, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., demanded to know why ICANN didn't approve .xxx "as a means of protecting our kids from the awful, awful filth which is sometimes widespread on the Internet." Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., complained to a federal commission that .xxx was necessary to force adult Webmasters to "abide by the same standard as the proprietor of an X-rated movie theater."

Like any other bureaucracy, ICANN instinctively shies away from controversy--especially from political bigwigs. No wonder they changed their mind this time around.

Months from now, after .xxx domains become available and popular, expect these same politicians to suggest that adult Webmasters should be forced to permanently relocate from .com.

"You're definitely going to find some pressure on sex sites to move there," predicts David Greene, director of the First Amendment Project in Oakland, Calif.

What's more, the existence of an .xxx suffix will make it more difficult to challenge such a law in court. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has suggested that the presence of "adult zones" on the Internet would make a future Communications Decency Act more likely to be regarded as constitutional.

In a split decision, O'Connor voted for and against different portions of the CDA in 1997, but only because "we must evaluate the constitutionality of the CDA as it applies to the Internet as it exists today." In the future, however, O'Connor warned, "the prospects

Featured Video
6
This content is rated TV-MA, and is for viewers 18 years or older. Are you of age?
Sorry, you are not old enough to view this content.

Everything you can expect at Apple's Sept. 9th event

Apple is expected to throw the kitchen sink at us with new iPhones, iPads, a new Apple TV and MacBooks. We'll breakdown what you can expect to see.

by Brian Tong