Red-light filtering

May 22, 2006

The Internet is in danger of becoming one big red-light district, but at least it won't have an officially sanctioned one. That irony speaks to the very impracticality of the proposal to create a special domain name - .xxx, like .com or .org - that could be used to designate the Internet addresses of pornographic Web sites.

There's no question that porn has crept into every nook and cranny of the Internet. It is causing big problems not only for parents, schools and libraries intent on protecting children but also for such widely used non-porn Web services as MySpace.com, through which members can post photos.

But to create the only content-specific domain name - to be voluntarily used by porn peddlers - would do nothing to limit and might well expand their marketing opportunities. It also could put ICANN, the private corporation that manages worldwide assignment of Internet addresses for the U.S. Commerce Department, in the untenable position of potentially enforcing some nations' or jurisdictions' porn laws.

So we're glad that, after months of debate, this questionable idea has been rejected by ICANN. But that raises the question: What is to be done about Internet porn?

Technology innovation - in this case, advanced filtering programs - offers the best hope for limiting access to obscene material on the Internet. Highly sophisticated filters are reportedly under development; they would put the task of managing porn access in the hands of Internet users - or, in the case of minors, their parents, schools or libraries. That's where it directly belongs - certainly not indirectly with the company that is charged with assigning Internet addresses.

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