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.xxx probes US government interference

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The company behind the unsuccessful .xxx bid has filed a third freedom of information act (FOIA) request against the US Department of Commerce in its ongoing bid to discover what pressure was exerted by the US government on internet organisation ICANN to turn the top-level domain down.

The new FOIA request from ICM Registry, dated 28 June, asks for copies of communication between the DoC and internet naming authority IANA shortly after the DoC sent a letter to ICANN outlining its concerns for the .xxx domain, which was to be used to host internet pornography.

ICM Registry CEO Stuart Lawley suspects that a request by the DoC to IANA requiring it to change the style and format of its official reports may have been inspired by an effort to block the .xxx domain thanks to political pressure exerted by right-wing Christian groups in the US.

Dot-xxx is the only one of a number of new top-level domains that were initially approved by ICANN but has not had its contract signed off. Despite many of the other domains being officially approved, there remains an unexplained lag in their official IANA reports being sent to the DoC for formal approval. ICM Registry is probing what influence, if any, its application may have had in that delay.

The FOIA request is the third filed by the company to discover if assertions both by ICANN and the DoC and that the US government played no role in turning down .xxx are true. The first FOIA request provided thousands of pages of communication that showed demonstrably that the DoC had been actively lobbied by US Christian groups, had changed its stance as a result, and had organised a lobbying effort against the domain at ICANN.

However, many pages contained "redacted" or deleted information which ICM Registry suspect point to an effective blocking of the domain - going against the US government's stated principle of non-interference in ICANN. ICM Registry is currently suing the DoC for the redacted information and expects to receive a second tranch of information in the coming weeks.

A second FOIA request pinpointed a meeting between US communications secretary John Kneuer and ICANN president Paul Twomey around the same time that ICANN voted against the .xxx domain and the DoC subsequently approved ICANN as the contract holder for running the internet's foundations.

This third request demonstrates the level of determination ranged against the US government to expose what is widely suspected to have been a behind-the-scenes manipulation of ICANN's decision-making processes.

If proven, the backroom dealing could have severe implications both for ICANN and for the US government's stewardship of the Internet.

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