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An international row broke out on Thursday over alleged US interference in the internet’s core addressing system after a proposal to set up a domain for pornographic material was formally rejected.

The board of ICANN, the international body that oversees the “root” system that lets a user connect to information on a server held anywhere else in the world, voted late on Wednesday to reject a proposal to create a new domain, which would have carried the suffix .XXX.

Last year, political pressure from the US contributed to ICANN delaying a decision on whether to adopt the porn domain, prompting international accusations that the US had used its veto power over ICANN’s decisions to influence the debate.

At its first formal vote on the issue this week, board members of the agency voted by nine to five to reject the plan for the .XXX domain, which had been put forward by ICM Registry, a US internet registry.

“We see here a clear case of political interference in ICANN,” a spokesman for Viviane Reding, the European Union’s information society and media commissioner, said. “It’s a worrying development that the US administration has interfered in this process.”

However, Paul Twomey, chairman of ICANN, rejected the accusation as “completely ill-founded and ignorant.”

The spectre of interference in the internet’s core addressing system was a key issue in the European Comission’s campaign last year to wrest control of the system from the US. The attempt was rejected late last year, though simmering unhappiness with the agency, for instance over its slowness in introducing non-English language addresses, has persisted.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Twomey said that a number of countries other than the US had lodged their own criticisms of the pornography plan. These include the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Brazil and Australia, he added.

The governments, along with ICANN’s board members, had expressed a number of different reservations about the plan, Mr Twomey said. These included a concern that, if ICM was unable to regulate the domain as it promised, ICANN might find itself acting as an international policeman for content on the internet.

“It increasingly raised the question of [whether] ICANN was itself now going to be expected to be the enforcer of every jurisdiction’s view of content,” he said.

The plan for a separate address on the Web also drew criticism from some parts of the pornography industry.

“Their concern was that people would be forced into that [domain] and it would be a mechanism for censorship,” said Mr Twomey.

While the vote marks the first time the long-running .XXX debate has come to a decisive stage, ICM still has the right of appeal over ICANN’s decision.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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