Removing domain names

Stuff reports:

considered racist toward Maori can not be removed by the body that manages them unless they are ordered to by a court.

One domain name, unemployed.maori.nz, links straight to the Work and Income New Zealand website.

Another, called kai.maori.nz, redirects to the KFC website.

Auckland University of Technology lecturer Steve Elders it was part of a growing trend of “online Maori bashing”.

The Domain Names Commission (DNC) should de-register them, he told Radio New Zealand.

I’m a member of the Domain Name Commission. I don’t speak for them on this issue. I’m just commenting on the wider policy issue.

I’m really not sure that people want the Domain Name Commission made judge, jury and executioner as to which websites are acceptable, and which are not. Call me old fashioned but I think it is up to Parliament to decide on what content is legal or illegal, and for the courts to decide if something is in breach.

As fun as it would be for me, and four others, to have the power to unilaterally remove websites and domain names from the Internet purely because we don’t like it, I’m really not sure that is good for the Internet or for New Zealand.

But the commission can not take down domain names unless a court orders the body to, its  communications adviser Patrick Watson told Fairfax Media.

“It’s not in the Domain Name Commission’s mandate to investigate anything to do with content, so we don’t comment on any material published online,” he said.

“With these sorts of issues, people who have concerns about the actual content, they have to follow alternative routes with lawyers or the Commerce Commission, or the Human Rights Commission.”

The commission had an open registration process and names were taken on a “first-come, first-served” basis.

But  the commission received a court order, it would  make sure the order was complied with.

A domain name is just an identifier on the Internet. What people do with it – good, bad or neutral, is up to them. If they break the law with it they face consequences. If a court orders a domain name removed (which does happen sometimes), then the court order is complied with.

New Plymouth’s Brett Healy, the registrar of the domain unemployed.maori.nz, said offence was “taken, not given”, and he had not publicised the domain in any way.

“Claims like Mr Elders seem to be over-dramatic, the other domains referenced don’t appear to have page ranks on Google or have any sites dedicated to directing users to go there,” he said.

That is the interesting thing. As far as I can tell a number of these domain names were registered by people who participate in GP Forums – known for pranks like this. Some of the domains were registered over a decade ago, and some around a year ago. They had never been picked up in Google or anything. They were basically a private joke that no one would stumble over unless they went looking for them. Ironically it is the complaint from the academic which has made them well known.

The other issue with this is that removing a domain name should be a last resort. A domain name is not the same as a website. A domain name can enable numerous services such as e-mail. If there is an issue with a particular website, it is preferable to target the website, not the domain name – there can be significant collateral damage – often to innocent parties, when domain names are targeted.

The other thing to also remember with domain names, is that anyone who manages a domain name can create a sub-domain. If you (for example) registered unemployed.com you could create a sub-domain of maori.unemployed.com and redirect that to the WINZ website also.  So trying to exert censorship through the domain name system will almost inevitably fail.

This is not to condone the antics of those involved. If people don’t like what they have done, then they can complain to the Human Rights Commission, or more preferably express their disquiet directly to the individuals that registered the names, and are using them in that way. Unlike some other TLDs, .nz does not allow registrants to conceal their identities. That means the registrant of a .nz domain name is publicly contactable.

Again, note these are my personal views.

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