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ICANN hits back at collusion charges

The nonprofit assuming control of many of the Internet's core functions today responds to allegations, saying they were "puzzling" and appeared to be "based on a a misunderstanding."

The nonprofit assuming control of many of the Internet's core functions today responded to allegations that it colluded with the Justice Department, saying they were "puzzling" and appeared to be "based on a misunderstanding."

In a letter sent today, Esther Dyson, interim chair of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), responded to allegations Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Virginia) made last week.

Bliley claimed that it had been "highly inappropriate" for an ICANN attorney to talk with a Justice Department official who was investigating Network Solutions, until recently the sole registrar of the most popular form of domain names. The congressman, who comes from NSI's home state, pointed to an email he said proved the Justice Department improperly discussed the investigation with an interested third party.

Dyson said that a conversation had taken place, but added that there was nothing improper about it.

"ICANN's counsel was urging the Department of Justice, which as part of its official mission is the principal advocate for competition within the executive branch, to urge the more rapid transition of domain name registration services from a single monopoly government contractor to a competitive market," Dyson wrote. "We do not believe that this exercise of the constitutionally protected right to petition government could even arguably be considered inappropriate."

Officials from Bliley's office were not immediately available for comment. It was unclear if the Justice Department, which also was asked to respond to Bliley's remarks, has done so yet.

Bliley's criticism has come as interest in domain names and the transition to a shared registration system has blossomed on Capitol Hill. Bliley held hearings exploring whether ICANN overstepped its limited authority by charging registrars a mandatory fee and by holding board meetings in public. NSI, one of ICANN's chief critics, did not escape scrutiny at the hearing, however.

A week later, the House Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property held hearings on NSI's claim that it holds proprietary rights to information behind the 5.3 million addresses it registered as an exclusive government contractor. Ownership of NSI's so-called Whois database is among the controversies dividing NSI and its future competitors, who say the information should freely be made available to anyone.

In the Senate, legislation is expected to reach the floor this week that would protect trademark owners from "cybersquatters," who register hundreds of addresses and then resell them to their rightful owners for a steep profit.