An Important Step for Human Rights and Global IT Expansion

It was extremely gratifying to witness the launch this week of the Global Network Initiative: Protecting and Advancing Freedom of Expression and Privacy and Communications Technologies.


The product of more than two years of study and development by companies and public interest groups, the Initiative offers a set of guiding principles for global IT companies doing business in an increasingly global environment.


Specifically it aims to address the real challenge faced by companies doing business in jurisdictions where local laws may run counter to their own internal commitments to privacy, free speech and other human rights. Read more

Can ICANN Really Do Alchemy?

Media reports might have you believe that ICANN has discovered how to turn lead into gold, with their decision to create lots of new top-level domains (TLDs) for the Internet. But there could be a lot of fool’s gold in the ICANN treasure chest, based on concerns and questions I heard at their meeting in Paris last week:

  1. Some businesses advocating new TLDs claim they will help to categorize the web, much like bookstores arrange shelves by subject matter. For example, the applicants for a .berlin TLD claim it will help users find websites relating to Berlin. But I have to wonder how that’s more useful than using ‘berlin’ in a conventional web search? The big winner in having millions of new domains is the big search engine that can sort it all out for us.
  2. ICANN will entertain objections "relating to morality and public order" regarding the words or phrases proposed for new TLDs. Sounds like a responsible policy, but will paranoid governments use this policy to oppose new TLDs like .freedom or .democracy?
  3. If a new TLD would create confusion with existing or similar TLDs, ICANN may deny the application. "Confusingly similar" is a good concept, but isn’t something this subjective certain to generate controversy and litigation?
  4. ICANN will have to pick winners and losers when multiple contenders want the same TLD. For example, who gets the .apple TLD – Apple computer, Apple records, or the Washington State Apple Growers Co-op?
  5. Consumers and brand owners are rightly concerned about fraud and cyber-squatting in new TLDs. Is every new TLD going to generate a gold rush for domains that can be re-sold to global brand owners? Worse still, are cyber criminals going to exploit new TLDs to dupe users into revealing personal data or lure them into online scams?

Applicants for new TLDs will have to run a veritable gauntlet of objections and contentions, which could take many months or even years to complete. At the same time, ICANN doesn’t want to keep restive governments waiting on domains that use non-Latin scripts, such as an Arabic and Chinese. So ICANN also approved a fast-track for governments to get country-code domains using non-Latin scripts, but users will be frustrated if this fast-track excludes the global TLDs (.com, .org, .edu ) they’re really looking for.

These are legitimate questions and real concerns that ICANN must overcome to launch hundreds of new TLDs. I can already hear critics claiming that ICANN processes are delaying new TLDs and the resulting gold rush for millions of new domains.

Before ICANN and domain speculators catch gold fever over the promise of newly-minted TLDs, they ought to heed an old proverb – all that glitters is not gold.

Posted by Steve DelBianco

In Case You Missed It…

Cybercrime experts from around the world will meet in Europe to discuss how governments should counter attacks aimed at crippling the internet and hitting users with data loss, identity theft and fraud.

Warner Music Group may propse an internet tax for unlimited online access to music. This new idea is intended to somewhat compensate the major losses music companies have recorded because of illegal music downloads.

Rep. Kevin Ambler, who has sponsored the Florida“Internet Predator Awareness and Online Safety Act” four times in a row, said senior women are often targets for predators, as they are more likely to be widowed and have savings. The bill would require sites to prominently post whether they required background checks and how the checks are done, as well as give safety tips

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Top Stories

The Anti-Phishing Consumer Protection Act of 2008 is working its way through the senate and house to gain support for the bill. The legislation would prohibit phishing and related abuses, such as the practice of using fraudulent or misleading domain names, by defining them as deceptive practices under Federal Trade Commission regulations.

Chinese hackers claim to have gained access to the world’s most sensitive sites, including the Pentagon. At a congressional hearing in Washingtonlast week, administration officials testified that the government’s cyber initiative has fallen far short of what is required. Most alarming, the officials said, there has never been a full damage assessment of federal agency networks.

The US has seized the domain name of a Spanish online travel agency that specializes in selling trips to Cuba to various European nationals. The company had been blacklisted for years, with the US Department of Treasury claiming the business had helped Americans evade restrictions on travel to Cuba.

ICANN looks to the future with the U.S. Department of Commerce in September 2009.  ICANN has made significant improvements in accountability, transparency and the endeavor of transitioning ICANN into a private sector entity is taking shape. However, some have suggested the JPA should remain in place to provide accountability, despite ICANN’s progress toward meeting its responsibilities.

Boston Red Sox executives signed a one-year agreement with Ace Ticket, making the longtime ticket reseller an official corporate sponsor of the team, and the local place for ticket resale. MLB inked its own deal with StubHub to handle all online ticket resale in the league.

News from around the Web…

In the case against, news that the judge who signed the order to take down the site and lock the domain to prevent transfer of the domain name to a different domain registrar is now reconsidering his actions after pressure from privacy and civil rights advocates.

Top brands face up to 10,000 “brandjacking” incidents a week from cybersquatters who are trying to pass off fake sites as genuine, according to new reports.

An op-ed in Forbes takes on the challenges of Internet sovereignty.  Online businesses have traditionally taken the position that they would be subject to onerous burdens if they had to comply with the laws of every jurisdiction.  Yet, there are now legal precedents established that companies must obey local laws despite the unwritten law of Internet freedom.

MySpace’s agreement last month with 49 state attorneys general to make social networking sites safer created an investigative task force to forestall pre-emptive legal or legislative solutions on the issue.  A member of the task force cautions the task force to acknowledge that the scope of its investigation must not begin and end with a search for a workable age verification technology. The legal and policy issues raised by age verification must be considered as well.  The task force will release quarterly updates and make recommendations by the end of the year.

The business industry weighed in yesterday at an NTIA meeting on the agency’s mid-term review of its joint project agreement (JPA) with ICANN.  NetChoice Coalition Executive Director Steve DelBianco said a "false sense of security" marks the mid-term review, which is like the first half of a school semester.  ICANN’s fast-track development of internationalized domain names contrasts with the world’s view of the project as an "abject failure," and the Internet Governance Forum is "waiting for a failure" at ICANN to strengthen its hand in moving Internet governance to the UN, he said, reported by Washington Internet Daily.


The landrush for the .asia domain name suffix has begun.  Companies have been able to reserve domains to match their trademarks, called a sunrise period, since October. Now the process is open for anyone to register and the first .asia domains will go live on the internet in March. Other regional suffixes for Africa and Latin Americaare expected to follow.

Europe makes a move towards Internet censorship over the use of Internet filtering.  Privacy advocates and carriers are going head to head with authorities.  The EU called last September for ISPs to block access to Web sites hosting information about bomb-making, and the UK said in January that she wanted action taken against sites that encouraged terrorism, including social networking sites.

ICANN found no evidence of front running, a form of deceptive domain name acquisition, following an investigation of 120 supposed examples of the cheating.

Top Stories

Massachusetts Attorney General announced plans to launch a new, high-tech computer forensics lab to fight cybercrime and train law enforcement to handle electronic evidence without additional funding. In October, the AG unveiled a 12-page plan to tackle cybercrime. was shut down by a federal judge ruling in San Francisco on Monday for posting several hundred internal documents from a Swiss Bank.  The domain name registrar, Dynadot received a permanent injunction to disable the domain to prevent transfer of to a different domain registrar. The ruling may present a test of First Amendment rights in the Internet era.

"Community Conscious" Internet Service Providers

Tennessee has a proposal to create a “Tennessee community conscious Internet provider” seal to be awarded by the consumer affairs Badgedivision. A bill introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly – HB 2530 – would award a seal to ISPs that:

1) retain IP addresses for 2 years;

2) take down communications that are obscene or harmful to minors;

3) prohibit customers from publishing communications obscene or harmful to minors; and

4) comply and cooperate with law enforcement requests and court orders.

Granted, Tennessee is the “volunteer state”, but if this bill were to pass would ISPs really participate?

Note how the bill links “obscenity” – which is not protected speech under the 1st Amendment – with material harmful to minors –  which could be almost anything, most of which would be protected speech.

This is a trend we’re seeing–using child porn and child online safety as a “trojan horse” into regulating the online behavior of everybody through rules on ISPs. Adam Thierer calls it “deputizing the middleman” — an apt phrase for the kinds of policing that ISPs may be doing in the future based on the regulatory and market pressures they’re seeing today.

Hawaii has a bill pending that would make it a felony for ISPs to knowingly fail to report subscribers who acquire, possess, solicit or transmit images of child pornography.

Forget a “seal of approval” – may as well just throw ISPs a badge.


A Free Speech Playbook for American Companies Doing Business Overseas

Do U.S. Internet companies "betray free speech"? A recent New York Times editorial believes so, and calls out Yahoo in particular for having a "gallingly backward understanding of the value of free expression." But the editorial missed the point, as my colleague Steve DelBianco spelled out in a letter-to-the-editor this past weekend:

Leading Internet companies want to do everything possible to
protect their customers, and several are working with human rights advocates to
develop ways to more effectively push back on the demands of repressive

Despite your blithe assertion, however, these companies need
to abide by the laws of the land. These companies worry not only about
customers going to jail but also their own employees. For example, the head of
eBay India was arrested when a user posted an objectionable video to an eBay site.

The real question is as Steve asks: In a China
with no American content or online services, will the goals of free speech and
civil rights be better served
? The answer should be an obvious and emphatic "No!"

We don’t really want our companies to get up and leave. Rather, we need a "playbook" of realistic
tactics online companies can use to effectively push back on government
demands for removing content or revealing user information.

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IGF – Creating an Industry Playbook to Protect Free Speech

I’m in Rio de Janeiro this week for the second Internet Governance Forum, a United Nations conference created to help more people –especially in the developing world—do more on the Net. Yesterday I was asked to represent NetChoice on a panel about upholding human rights online.  That is, how can internet companies protect freedom of expression when governments try to censor our customers’ content and ask us to reveal the identity of users whose online communications are deemed offensive.

That’s a tough question, since governments who oppose free expression usually also have the power to shut down companies, jail employees, and cut-off all access to our websites and applications.

Our panel explored ideas ranging from compliance to defiance and a few in between.  One idea I like to create a ‘playbook’ of realistic tactics online companies can use to effectively push back on government demands for removing content or revealing user information Center for Democracy and Technology is working on this along with Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and free expression advocates like Amnesty International.

At an international gathering like this, I often put things in terms of the world’s most popular game — football (or soccer to us Americans).  Think of the soccer coach as a provider of online services like email, hosting, blogs, and social networking sites.  The players are the customers and users trying to express themselves while living in a particular country.   The referees here represent the government.

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