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ICANN: Keep the Core Neutral, Stupid

Wendy Seltzer

ICANN's travelling circus is meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico this week. One of the main subjects of discussion has been the introduction of new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs), after a GNSO Report [PDF] proposed 19 "Recommendations" for criteria these new domain strings should meet — including morality tests and "infringement" oppositions.

I spoke at a workshop on free expression. (another report) It's important to keep ICANN from being a censor, or from straying beyond its narrow technical mandate. The thick process described in the GNSO report would be expensive, open to "hecklers' vetos," and deeply political.

Instead, I recommended that, along the lines of David Isenberg's Stupid Network, ICANN should aim for a "stupid core": approve strings after a minimal test for direct or visual collision. Just as we couldn't predict what applications or content would be successful on the Internet, but benefit from the ease with which innovators can experiment with a wide range, we'll benefit if entrepreneurs can experiment with new TLDs without a lot of central pre-screening. Rather than supporting a race to the bottom to adopt restrictions on the lines of the most restrictive government views of permissible expression (no human rights, sexuality, or "hate"), we must leave it to the governments to apply those restrictions at the edges too, in their own jurisdictions if they insist, but not at the center on all.

Of course I do not support government censorship even at the local level, but between local control, which can itself be a source of experimentation, and central control, which becomes ossified and restrictive at the lowest level, I think local law poses less threat to global free expression. If you agree that ICANN should keep moral judgments out of the DNS root, sign the petition to Keep the Core Neutral.

By Wendy Seltzer, Law professor
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