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ICANN Asked to Remake the Internet in Joseph Smith's Image?

If there's one thing that scares the bejabbers out of me, it's when organized religion — either directly or via proxies — attempts to nose its way into technology policy issues.

It appears that such a scenario is unfolding currently, with a concerted new effort to fundamentally remake the Internet in a manner befitting the sensibilities of top-down religious hierarchies. An Internet Pope? The Spanish Inquisition? Not exactly — that's the incorrect religion for this particular case.

The Register connects the dots of a rather sordid sequence of events in an article posted today.

Executive summary: It appears that mainly Utah-based Mormon anti-porn crusaders, in league with Ralph J. Yarro III (SCO Group chairman) have combined forces to petition ICANN toward the creation of a new "Cybersafety Constituency" — and are now reportedly using form letters to dominate the brief period of time available for comments.

To better understand how this all comes together and what such a Cybersafety Constituency might be after, one must be aware that Cheryl Preston, a key player for CP80 (headed by Yarro) is spearheading this effort.

CP80, which has been around for a number of years, has been pushing a radical and impractical (decorum prevents me from saying "loony" at this juncture) plan for fundamental restructuring of Internet architecture, along with associated new laws, to "channelize" the Internet into the censorship advocates' dream machine. These are hard-core Internet content control zealots we're talking about, at least judging from their own materials.

CP80 says that a whole slew of big name corporations, including Apple, Toshiba, Wal-Mart, Sony, PetSmart, Office Depot, and on and on, are "contribution partners" to their effort — seeming to imply support for the CP80 agenda. In reality, it appears likely to me that these are merely purchase affiliation links, and I wonder how many of these firms are aware of the manner in which CP80 is using their names and logos.

While it's difficult to visualize CP80's radical agenda gaining much traction in the short term, their entanglement with the new ICANN petition and what appears to be a well orchestrated Mormon pressure campaign certainly rate a "yellow shading toward orange" alert.

To be exceptionally clear about this, the key issue here isn't the particular religion involved. I'd say exactly the same thing about any other organized religion that appeared to be involving itself — in my view — inappropriately in technology policy matters.

Unfortunately, history teaches us that organized religion (a concept that I've always considered to be utterly orthogonal to truly meaningful questions of God, gods, and spirituality in general) is all too often an instrument for societal control rather than enlightenment.

I consider it crucial that the Internet not be sucked into this particular maelstrom.

(This post was originally published on Lauren Weinstein's blog.)

By Lauren Weinstein. More blog posts from Lauren Weinstein can also be read here.

Related topics: Censorship, Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Top-Level Domains, Web

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I Applaud Cheryl Preston's (and CP80's) Efforts. Joe S Alagna  –  Mar 21, 2009 5:53 PM PDT

Since its inception, ICANN has been influenced by lobbyists for business, intellectual property, registries(ars & ants), governments, non-commercial, and free speech advocates. 

Cheryl Preston and those backing her are the first people to come on the scene to advocate for families and children.  Now, The Register and Mr. Weinstein have written hit pieces attacking Mrs. Preston's faith and their legitimate methods?

It's not appropriate. 

1.) Mrs. Preston's faith is her own business and 2.) Every politician & business interest in the world uses form letters as a lobbying tool. 

Bringing these things up is a distraction and a red herring and neither of them have a legitimate place in the debate. Rather, we should stick to the issue. 

Families around the world have a problem with the easy availability of pornography on the Internet. This is a real problem that so far, has been under-represented within the ICANN community. 

Stigmas & fears about pornography online (often founded in truth) still get in the way of access for all.  There are millions of people around the world who associate the Internet with pornography, identity theft, and crime and who avoid it for those reasons. So dealing with the issue of free access to pornography online is a valid issue for ICANN and is also in the best interest of the growth of the Internet.

I'd like to see the reactions of people in a public ICANN meeting if I were to demonstrate the range of graphic pornography that is available without restriction online.  I'm sure that even with our strong convictions about freedom of expression, that I could offend many.  Yet we are doing very little about the free availability of these images to children around the world.

There are solutions that can meet the needs of free speech and free expression while keeping graphic pornography out of the hands and minds of children.  ICANN is optimistically attempting to work out many more complex problems than this that are not just technical in nature.

Let's give this nascent effort a chance and lay off the personal hit jobs. Whether we believe in a god or not, we all have religion of some kind.  References to people's faiths and attacks on legitimate lobbying methods are out of place in this discussion.

Agree that astroturf isnt the exclusive province of corporation funded lobbyists Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Mar 22, 2009 8:05 AM PDT

Everybody does it in a policy arena .. all the way from free speech and privacy advocates to corporations.

Distasteful, to be sure.  I dont like it any more than you appear to do, Lauren - but I equally dont like it when anybody at all does it, not just megacorp funded advocacy groups.

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