Coalition complains about domains

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups championing “cyber rights” have complained to the U.S. Department of Commerce about a decision on generic top-level domains (TLDs) by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that governs the Internet domain-name system.

The ACLU and the other cyber rights advocates argue that artificial limitations threatening freedom of expression have been placed on the number of generic TLDs. The groups also say the process used by ICANN and the Department of Commerce to select new TLDs is undemocratic and might violate federal laws designed to ensure openness and public participation.

By limiting the domain space, ICANN and the Commerce Department have failed to recognize the needs and free speech rights of individual Internet users and non-commercial organizations, the coalition said in a letter on Wednesday to the Commerce Department.

“We therefore believe that it is essential for you to carefully consider the substance of this decision rather than to rubber-stamp ICANN’s recommendations, and to allow the public to comment before making any decisions. Indeed, we believe that it would be arbitrary and capricious, and a denial of basic due process, to do anything less.”

The letter calls for hearings on the TLD issue to seek public comment before. The letter says the department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will make the final decision on which new TLDs will be introduced, but NTIA has interpreted the procedure differently. Its policy since ICANN was created has been to move decisions about the structure of the Internet to the private sector and it hasn’t said it plans to review ICANN’s decision on TLDs.

The protests appeared to come as no great surprise to ICANN, which apparently anticipated the concerns, particularly in light of the pending arrival this week of a new administration led by President-elect George W. Bush. ICANN was formed in October 1998 under the auspices of outgoing President Bill Clinton.

“Some ICANN representatives have said that hearings would naturally be expected because of the new administration,” a spokesman with ICANN’s public relations company said Thursday evening. “I think the board knew they could not make everyone happy.”

ICANN in November decided to endorse seven new top-level domain names to relieve the overcrowded .com and .net domains. The ICANN board approved .biz for businesses; .info for general use; .name for individuals; .pro for professionals; .museum for museums; .coop for business cooperatives, and .aero for the aviation industry. But ICANN passed on other proposed top-level domains, including .kids, .xxx, .web, .union and .tel.

Among the advocates of the TLD hearings are groups who had their domain name proposals rejected, according to the ICANN spokesman. Their applications have been kept on file and could potentially be reconsidered at some point in the future, he said.

ICANN had not issued a formal statement on the matter Wednesday evening, and officials from ICANN could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for NTIA had no comment on the letter.

The coalition letter cited ICANN’s rejection of the .union proposal, which it said was based on unfounded speculation that the labor organizations that proposed the new top-level domain name were undemocratic. The procedures used gave the proponents no opportunity to reply to this accusation, the letter said.

Other signatories of the letter are the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the Association for Computing Machinery and Prof. A. Michael Froomkin of the University of Miami (Florida) School of Law

At least one other complaint has been filed with the NTIA over the TLD selection process. It came from Atlantic Root Network Inc. of Virginia Beach, Va., which claims ICANN lacks the authority to approve new TLDs.