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Should Nominet ban .uk domains that use paedo and crim-friendly words?

Censorship or sense? Speak your brains NOW amid domain shakeup plan

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Nominet - currently pushing its plan to let people shell out for .uk web domains without the .co, .org and other second-level labels - now wants to know if certain words should be banned from any .uk registrations.

In July, the UK domain registry once again pushed to unleash a tidal wave of second-level domain names on the web; if successful, folks will be able to skip the usual .co, .me, .ltd, .plc, .ac, .net, .gov and .org - and buy the more snappier mybusiness.uk or lookatmycat.uk, etc.

It described this as handing over "the trust of the '.uk' brand". Now it wants to know if there should be any restrictions on new web domains.

Nominet has an open policy on domain names, but it's considering rejecting registrations if they feature keywords linked to criminality: for example, it's known that paedeophiles have code words, such as "hobby" which refers to a child, and these could (shock horror) crop up in domains.

Launching a fresh consultation on the matter, Nominet said today that "in the last week, we have worked with the Internet Watch Foundation to check the keywords they associate with illegal content against the domain names under our management".

The move follows pressure from the Ministry of Fun over the summer to ban domain names "containing offensive or abusive terms" - see this correspondence [PDF] between Nominet and ministers. (The registry points out, by way of example, that although childabuse.co.uk would be banned by its keywords, it in fact redirects to the child-protection charity NSPCC, illustrating that blanket restrictions on registrations could be heavy handed and counterproductive.)

The great .uk shakeup returns

This comes after the registry revised its original and widely lambasted proposal to open the floodgates on second-level domain names.

That initial plan was scuppered in 2012 because 800 respondents from UK firms said they had little appetite for what was on offer. Businesses also said at the time that the consultation process on the domain system change had been confusing.

One of the issues raised was a lack of security protections, an integral element that many within the namespace community said Nominet had failed to adequately address. Another problem highlighted with that proposal was that placing .uk alongside co.uk addresses could prove confusing for Brit consumers.

But the rejigged plan launched this year has come under fire from the co-founder of Nominet, Alex Bligh, who quit the not-for-profit outfit in 2007.

In his outspoken submission [PDF] that responds to the revised proposal, Bligh unleashed a withering attack on Nominet. He said:

The second consultation is little better – nowhere does it set out the disadvantages of the proposal as a whole to existing registrants. Given this, it is remarkable how much opposition the proposal has garnered. I have yet to find anyone not in the pay of Nominet that supports this proposal, and it has managed to unite parts of the industry not normally known for their agreement in a single voice against Nominet.

For over 20 years registrations have been made in subdomains of .uk, and since 1996 that process has been managed by Nominet. Nominet claims to be a ‘force for good’ that seeks to enhance trust in the internet. Turning its back on its existing registrants that have single-handedly funded its very existence seems to me the ultimate abrogation of that trust.

The remainder of my comments on this consultation should therefore be read in the context that the best course of action for Nominet would be to admit that in this instance it has made an error, and abandon this proposal in its entirety.

The latest consultation [PDF] on Nominet's second-level namespace plan is set to end on 23 September.

As for today's consultation announcement from Nominet, the company said the review [PDF] of its registration policy for all .uk domain names would be independently chaired by former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald QC.

It said:

Lord Macdonald will work with Nominet’s policy team to conduct a series of meetings with key stakeholders, and to review and assess wider contributions from the internet community, which should be received by 4 November 2013. The goal is to deliver a report to Nominet’s board in December of this year, which will be published shortly thereafter.

Anyone wishing to submit their views on Nominet's UK domain registration policy can do so via this online form. Who exactly will decide the banned words will be a sticking point, we imagine. The closing date is 4 November. ®

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