23 Apr 2002 Grit   » (Journeyer)

I'm taking a very cool class this quarter, taught by Barbara Simons and Ed Felten. It's the Computer Science Policy Research Seminar. Lots of interesting stuff--- copyright, copy control, privacy, Internet governance, etc.

I've decided on a project about naming, since it's also a big chunk of my thesis topic. I've copied the abstract below:

Project: Using the Domain Name System for Content Segregation

World Wide Web content is referred to by Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). One portion of the URL is the server (or "host") identifier, which is looked up in the Domain Name System (DNS). DNS has a hierarchal tree structure, consisting of:

  • a single "root zone"
  • subsidiary "generic top level domains" (gTLDs, such as .com) and "country code top level domains" (ccTLDs, such as .us)
  • a vast number of "second-level domains" (such as stanford.edu) with their own policies and sub-delegations (e.g., dsg.stanford.edu)

Originally DNS had a limited set of generic top level domains, each with a specified use: ".mil" for U.S. military sites, ".com" for corporations, ".org" for non-profit organizations, and so on. However, with the increasing popularity of the Web, the meaning of these gTLDs has become less distinct. Personal sites are registered in ".com", and businesses register their trademarks in all available top-level domains. Countries with appealing ccTLDs, such as ".tv" and ".to", offer domain name registration to the world at large. ".com" by itself dwarfs the rest of the DNS tree, containing nearly all of the second-level delegations.

Recent attempts have been made to reverse this flattening trend by restricting the use of portions of the DNS tree, for a variety of reasons.

  • ICANN, the governing body responsible for allocating ccTLDs, has approved the creation of several content-specific names, such as ".aero" (air-transport industry), ".name" (individual use), and ".museum". Typically membership in some group is necessary for registering in such domains, but there are only loose constraints on what content may appear within sites bearing these names.
  • H.R. 3833 (introduced March 4, 2002) directs the administrator of the ".us" domain to create a ".kids.us" delegation. Registering within this domain would be contingent on agreeing to a set of guidelines for what content is appropriate.
  • S. 2137 (introduced April 6, 2002) directs ICANN to create a ".prn" domain, and mandates that any commercial web site which is in the business of "making available ... material that is harmful to minors" shall operate their service only under the new domain.
  • Various suggestions have been made to reserve top-level domains for non-ASCII domain names, such as domain names encoded in a Chinese character set.

These attempts bring up a number of interesting technical and policy questions, which my project will try to address through position papers on ICANN and on the bills mentioned above.

  • Is the creation of content-specific domain names actually useful? Would the goals of those advocating such domain names be better served by a different allocation policy among existing domains? Is there any technical reasons to favor the broadening of the DNS tree?
  • Is content segregation by domain name effective? Can children be shielded from inappropriate content using such mechanisms without infringing on the rights of adults?
  • Are there first amendment issues involved in naming? (For example, would the government be able to restrict the titles which books are given?)
  • Does the U.S. government retain the right to administer the entire domain name system? Or must any proposal such as ".prn" be subject to the same process as other new gTLDs?
  • What are the implications of content segregation policies on other protocols which use DNS, such as e-mail, and on other naming technologies, such as LDAP or Freenet?

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