ICAAN’s Screening Of Foreign Applicants For Domain Names labelled Racial Profiling

GulfNews reports concerns raised by Khalid Fattal, an advisory committee member of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICAAN), the US based internet regulator, that the screening of foreign based applicants for generic top level domain names from certain countries could lead to declining applicants which don’t conform to US foreign policy.

Fattal, a  Syrian-born Arab American, is uneasy about foreign applicants being subjected to US laws to run multi-lingual domains in their own countries, and believes this could lead to the creation of alternate internets.

As discussed previously, the introduction of internationalised domain names represents a milestone in internet history, marking the beginning of a truly multilingual internet. These IDN top-level domain names will offer new opportunities  for Internet users around the world by allowing them to establish and use top-level domains in their native languages and scripts.  Applicants will also have the opportunity to operate their own registries subject to approval from ICAAN.

Following release of the IDNs, the respective country registries will be responsible for determining their requirements under the new IDNs, including prices, and whether existing domain name holders of  latin-character domain names should have priority  over a corresponding IDN.  It is probable that there will be a sunrise period in order to allow brand owners to register their brands with IDN ccTLDs first.

The new gTLD program is an initiative that will facilitate the creation of new gTLDs into the domain name space. However, the application process, developed by ICAAN,  for a new gTLD is a complex one. The proposed Final New gTLD Applicant Guidebook was released by ICAAN on 12 November 2010.

ICAAN’s guidebook for Applicants provides for background checks for Applicants.  For example, an applicant wanting to apply to create and operate a registry has to satisfy a number of evaluation criteria set down by ICAAN and demonstrate they have the requisite financial and technical capability to operate a registry.

One of the more controversial aspects of the earlier draft guidelines proposed by ICAAN were the provisions for background checks for terrorist organisations.

Fattal has voiced his concerns about nations citizens and entities wanting to conduct internet operations in their local languages nations being scutinised under US laws.

Following earlier complaints that ICAAN was planning to conduct terrorism checks on new gLTD applicants, culled  the word terrorism from the draft applicant guidebook, and a new heading titled  “Legal Compliance” was substituted in the background checks to be performed in the assessment and approval of applications.  Arab community members criticised ICANN for its inclusion and it was perceived by Muslims and Arabs as racist and prejudicial. Given that there is a lack of universal consensus as to who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter the word terrorist was dropped.  The danger of using such a definition becomes apparent when you consider the range of controversial political movements and the prospect that a  terrorist background check could become an expedient way of controlling the domain name system to stifle speech and political expression.

Even prior to Osama Bin Laden’s recent capture and assassination, the possibility of him surfacing and applying for approval for a TLD to promote Al Quaeda seems unlikely.  This begs the question of what the terrororist background check  performed by ICANN staff was supposed to accomplish other than to preclude certain groups from expressing themselves freely.  It was felt that ICAAN had no business regulating political speech where it is legal.

There were already provisions disqualifying persons with certain categories of criminal convictions from being approved under the program. Domainers are not happy with the revised guidelines which adopts a three strikes type approach, barring applicants who have had three adverse URDP decisions from  owning a gTLD registry.  TheDomains have expressed their views on the revised guidelines in respect of applicants ICAAN deems to be “serial cybersquatters”.

A copy of the latest version of the  ICAAN Applicant Guidebook (AGB) can be viewed here.


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