In order to be able to operate a web site you need first to acquire a web site name, aka a “domain name.” Typically you buy a domain name from a Registrar who will check the name you want is unique. It has to be.
For the best part of ten years the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) has been issuing take down notices to a domain with a horrible name. No need to repeat it but if you really want to know you can see a petition change.org put together about it in 2017.
The disgusting name wasn’t illegal and neither was some of the appalling content on the site. But there was also illegal material, hence the notices.
Late last month, upon receipt of further information about egregious transgressions by the site C3P contacted the Registrar. It was a Canadian company called Tucows, an outfit that is well known in cyberland. Tucows acted swiftly. For all practical purposes the site is now gone. There will be no redirect which will allow existing customers to find it elsewhere.
Bravo C3P and bravo Tucows. Maybe the site’s owners will set up shop elsewhere using a another Registrar but Tucows have done what they could within the externally imposed constraints of the existing system. These constraints cannot be changed by any unilateral action on the part of Tucows.
The domain name system is a racket
Now here’s the thing. As regular readers will know I have long been interested in this issue. The whole domain system has become a racket. It was born in the era of cyber utopianism/myopiaism, but is now completely mired in economic and institutional self interest which blocks the path to reform. Even so there are within it several exemplary actors who go the extra mile to do the right thing. They do not hide behind or exploit narrow legalese. It is their actions which tell us how bad everyone else is.
The domain that C3P complained about was within the .com top level domain (tld). Every web site exists under the umbrella of a tld. The biggest tld is .com, then we have .org, .ru, .net, .uk and so on. There are well over a thousand tlds. Each has a Registry which in turn contracts with Registrars who are thus able to sell domain names within that space. Tucows is a very big Registrar. The daddy of them all is, er, Go-Daddy.
For many years the UK’s IWF has been monitoring where csam is being found on the web in terms of the tlds under which they operate. Since records began .com has been, and still is, the largest source. In the latest year for which figures are available (2021) .com accounted for 52% of all csam found by or reported to the IWF. The .net tld used to be second but it appears to have dropped down the ranks and in 2021 was 5th in the list of shame, coming in at 6% of all reports.
What do the .com Registry and the .net Registry have in common? They are both owned by the same company, Verisign, which is headquartered in Reston, Virgina, within metaphorical sight of the White House. It is also highly profitable and is quoted on the New York Stock Exchange.
A total of 58% of all csam is an improvement for Verisgn. In past years they have accounted for around 80%.
There are historical reasons why .com is a bit different from other Registries but whatever those reasons might be, the contemporary reality is and has been for many years, Verisign has consistently refused to act in ways which are well within its reach and powers so as to reduce the level of criminal abuse on domains which it owns and ultimately controls.
Instead they have relied on the narrow wording of an agreement between them and the US Federal Government. This was made when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. Shame on the US Federal Government for entering into an agreement that allowed Verisign to behave the way they have done for such a long time or, to be charitable, even if we can forgive the Government their original sin, putting it down to a form of short-sightedness that was very common then, the real disgrace comes from not revisiting the agreement when the terrible trends referred to became established for all the world to see.
But sitting on top of Verisign is ICANN, the body that gives contracts to Registries so they can be Registries. ICANN is another byproduct of the era of cyber utopianism/myopiaism. In any number of ways it has utterly failed to protect the general public interest and in particular the interests of children. It protects the interests of those who fund it. Verisign is the largest single financial contributor to ICANN’s coffers, by a country mile.
If you click on that link you will see in fiscal year 2022, out of total receipts of US$ 149, 526, 317 over US$ 55 million came from Verisign, and that’s without me checking which subidiaries they own but operate under a different name. In any other walk of life that would qualify as a near monopoly or would it be a near monopsony? Either way it stinks.
As with Verisign, ICANN only came into existence because the US Federal Government paved the way. The Obama Administration signed off on giving them their independence in 2009 but it did so on the basis of promises made which have never been fulfilled. Nor was there ever any serious intention of so doing. In an English court of law such an agreement would be void. It ought to be in an American one as well.