Internet Porn, ICANN, and Families: A Call to Action
13 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2008
Date Written: October 15, 2008
Although the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) technically does not regulate Internet content, its day-to-day decisions consistently influence not only the structure of the Internet, but its content as well. ICANN policies concerning the approval of Top Level Domains and Internationalized Domain Names, maintenance of the WHOIS database, treatment of common vehicles for abuse, and requirements governing speech, for example, have far-reaching implications. Among the ramifications are the potential for protecting children online now or in the future, stopping the flow of child pornography, thwarting predators and sex traffickers, and maintaining legitimate free speech policy.
ICANN's mission and effectiveness depends, as its mission statement states, on "broad, informed participation reflecting the functional, geographic, and cultural diversity of the Internet at all levels of policy development and decision-making." However, in practice, only a handful of individuals who share a certain policy viewpoint have represented the billions of non-commercial Internet users around the globe in the ICANN policy-making process. At the crux of many ICANN policies is the debate on unfettered speech, access, and anonymity on the Internet. These issues are complex, culturally and nationally diverse, and changing as we understand more about the Internet and its potential.
This Article addresses reasons why advocates for families, consumers, and safety interests have not yet stepped forward to fill the gap in the stakeholder representation at ICANN. It then discusses the makeup, history, and voting power of the current ICANN Non-commercial Users' Constituency (NCUC), and the positions taken by the NCUC and its officers in policy debates. It explores the basis and implications of these positions, including the principle of "Net Neutrality." It compares this principle with the traditional parameters of the right to free expression. Finally, it urges a more robust and balanced discussion of competing rights and interests in the ICANN forum.
This Article concludes with recommendations for ICANN to respond to the narrowness of the non-commercial stakeholder representation. It suggests (1) considering further the reasons for keeping separate the NCUC and the At-large Advisory Committee; (2) using ICANN's travel support funding to encourage wider participation of groups and individuals representing the breadth of user interests; (3) developing integration and training programs; (4) maintaining standards for rotating officers and appointments; as well as (5) materially assisting in the revision of the stakeholder structure.
Keywords: Children, cyberlaw, domain names, freedom of expression, governance, intellectual property, Internet regulation, net neutrality, Non-commercial Users' Constituency, obscenity, pornography
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