Andrew Belonsky

To Curb Political Outcry, Obama Should Support .gay

Filed By Andrew Belonsky | February 09, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics
Tags: Obama and LGBT rights, Presidential Alert System, White House

News that the White House hopes to enact a "Presidential Alert System" has some people worried about President Obama's position on executive control of the Internet, and opponents are already decrying the alert as part of the President's "Orwellian" efforts to "commandeer" online activities.

obama-online-2.jpg"Once again, the government has imposed an unreasonable and absurd mandate on business and the American people," wrote Kurt Nimmo at influential conservative website InfoWars.

He went on to liken the system, which would raise flags during national emergencies, like a terror attack, as a way for the government to "disseminate propaganda" and as a "total takeover" of the media.

This "President Alert" is only the latest uproars over the Obama administration's potential power over the internet. Last month, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee allowed legislation to go forward that would give the commander-in-chief control over "crucial components that form our nation's critical infrastructure" during an administration. Opponents have dubbed such a mechanism a "kill switch."

And then there's another online development, one that hits closer to LGBT home: the White House's attempts to create a governmental veto for certain domain suffixes, including the controversial .gay.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meets next month and will debate whether specific domain suffixes are appropriate and how they should be regulated. There are an estimated 115 applicants, including .movie, .nyc and .gay, a suffix two different gay organizations, The dotGay Initiative and the .Gay Alliance, are hoping to help cement in the virtual world.

The dotGay Initiative defines their purpose as establishing ".gay [as] an exemplary beacon of social entrepreneurship and an empowering resource for helping people live their lives better based on their own conscience and improved access to global resources in the community." And the .Gay Alliance, led by veteran media man Joe Dolce, says they want to "to create a reliable and ethical source of funding for LGBT Civil Rights by creating the .gay web address for the benefit of our community."

The Obama administration has remained relatively mum about its involvement in the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meeting, but the States' ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee sent proposals outlining their approval criteria, including the suggestion that governments be given veto power over domains that are objectionable to the admittedly hazy "morality and public order."

Online warriors are understandably wary of this stipulation.

"It's the U.S. government that's proposing this procedure, and they've shown absolutely no interest in standing up for free expression rights through this entire process," said Milton Mueller, professor of information studies at Syracuse University.

He also remarked, "If governments believe that gays (or other controversial ideas and communities) have a right to express their identity, they would not make their ability to get a domain name reflecting their identity contingent upon a review by a world government committee in which some members are sure to be hostile to their culture and lifestyle. Any government that really wants to uphold individual rights would not do what the U.S. is doing."

While it does appear the Obama administration and Department of Commerce, whose National Telecommunications and Information Agency helps regulates the Internet, are giving themselves a worrisome amount of control, there are complicated pitfalls to consider. For example, if every domain name was approved, who would regulate the suffix .bank or .pharmacy?

And the administration does appear to be leaving room for an override: "Any GAC member may raise an objection to a proposed string for any reason. If it is the consensus position of the GAC not to oppose objection raised by a GAC member or members, ICANN shall reject the application."

So, if a conservative country opposes a specific name, like .gay, the U.S. representative for GAC, Suzanne Sene, could raise an objection. Whether she would do so, however, has not been made clear. A Commerce Department spokesman simply said, "It is premature for us to comment on those domain names."

The Obama administration could help defuse left and right wing critiques not only by spelling out what types of suffixes it finds most problematic, and also by affirming the importance of .gay, a name that certainly falls under the government's rubric "community-based strings," suffixes which "represent or that embody a particular group of people or interests based on historical components of identity."

By supporting .gay, Obama would prove both that he's not dead set on controlling the Internet, thereby neutering some of the right wing outcry, as well as affirm his dedication to freedom of online expression and business, and he would show the LGBT community that he's got their back when it comes to establishing a virtual realm of our own.

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What a load of crap. Once again we see the ridiculous presumption that calling something "gay" stands for all of us. It does not. Isn't it enough that 3/4 of our "community" media try to tell the same stupid and inaccurate lie?

Get over yourself. Wake me when they're considering a .trans suffix. Now that would actually impress me.

Rebecca, I see absolutely no reason why there should not be a TLD for ".trans" and I would wholehearted support it.

Maybe one of the national transpeople organizations should submit an application, if they have not already.

I'll leave that to the uber-techno-geeks. I'm at best a power user with a little HTML skill (I know enough to create a basic page in Dreamweaver and tweak the code to my taste), but this kind of thing really isn't in my wheelhouse.

A .lgbt TLD would impress me too, but I don't expect people like Andrew Belonsky to be capable of seeing beyond themselves enough to bother promoting something like that.

I'm kind of weirded out by the thought of suffixes with more than three letters. .gay seems natural to me, but .bank or .pharmacy feels so weird.

In a strange way, it feels like we'd be going back to Geocities: everything in "neighborhoods," sorted by subject matter.

Samwise, see my "Technical Note" which will appear below soon.

You are absolutely correct, the top-level domains are actually kinda like mathematical "neighborhoods".

Technical Note: To call these domain protions "suffixes" is technically incorrect and can lead to misunderstandings about Internet internals. Domain names on the Internet are established as a mathematical tree structure, and the domain "suffixes" we are discussing here are actually the roots of the Internet domain addressing protocol, which is called Domain Name System (DNS) ... and since each functions as the root of the online address being used, actually what we commonly think of as the "main" part of the domain name, the left part, is actually a prefix to the root.

For example, with the URL, "bilerico" is a sub-set under ".com" and not the other way around. The domain portion we are calling the "suffix" here, the part to the right of the "dot", is properly called the "top-level domain" (TLD) ... and although "TLD" and "DNS" are terms of network jargon, I think they are simple enough that public discussions can and should use them. They supply not only technical validity, but also lead to a better public understanding of how the Internet works.

So what this post is discussing is US government control of top-level domains, not "domain suffixes".

Honestly .gay sounds like a silly idea. It's ghettoizing, I'm going to guess that the stuff that would be on there wouldn't be that interesting, and all for some money to be sent to the nonprofits.

No thanks. And I don't think that Obama would be able to quell the right by supporting it - nothing will quell their criticism. That's been one of his big problems so far - he thinks that there is something less than him firing biden, replacing him with palin, stepping down, converting to southern baptism, and writing a book about how awesome ayn rand and reagan are that'll win him the good graces of conservatives. But nothing less than that will.