updated 3/29/2007 12:52:52 PM ET 2007-03-29T16:52:52

On the eve of a key vote Friday, government advisers from around the world are raising concerns about creating a ".xxx" address for pornographic sites.

Janis Karklins, chairman of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number's Governmental Advisory Committee, said Thursday that a such a domain name might inadvertently leave ICANN in the business of content regulation, "which would be inconsistent with its technical mandate."

The Canadian government had raised such fears in an online ICANN forum earlier.

The GAC recommendation, following similar concerns raised last March, is by no means binding, but it carries a lot of weight with ICANN's board.

A vote was scheduled Friday as weeklong meetings conclude here. The board's 15-voting members could approve it, reject it outright or reject it but leave room for a revised proposal to return. That last option, however, would contradict ICANN's desire to close the current round of domain name proposals, started in 2004.

The board also could defer a decision for more discussion. That, too, is not likely given that ICANN already has rejected similar proposals twice since 2000 and has discussed the latest version during three teleconference meetings this year.

"They have made it very clear that the board will make a decision," said Paul Levins, ICANN's vice president for corporate affairs. "It's pretty clear that they want to make a decision."

Stuart Lawley, the chief executive of the proposal's primary backer, ICM Registry LLC, said he was confident about Friday's vote and optimistic that the domain would be approved, despite objections from many porn sites, religious groups and now some government advisers.

"If ICANN follows its bylaws and published processes then we'll get a positive outcome," he told The Associated Press. "If they stick to their rules, there is only one outcome and that is approval."

Addressing GAC's fears of ICANN getting into content management, Lawley said ICM's proposal leaves his company — and not ICANN — in charge of who gets a ".xxx" domain.

"ICANN's position is to make sure to enforce our obligations on us, not to do them in our stead," he said. "If we don't do them, ICANN can either make us do them, fire us and give it to someone else."

Although the domain name's use by porn sites would be voluntary, the proposal touches on issues of access and freedom of speech, with many in the adult-entertainment industry worried that its creation would make government regulation tempting.

"The proposal is troubling because it will invariably lead to issues as to what sites should be designated `.xxx,'" said E. Christopher Murray, a civil-liberties lawyer with the Garden City, New York-based law firm of Reisman, Peirez and Reisman, who added that the designation "will encourage the censoring of the Internet by governments."

Jeffrey Douglas, chairman of the adult industry trade group Free Speech Coalition, said bills have been introduced in Congress to require such use. He also said credit-card processors could refuse business with porn sites that do not end in ".xxx."

"Inevitably it means there will be a 'ghettoization,'" he said at ICANN's public forum Thursday. "Having a wall around that community means there will be a restriction of access. Once '.xxx' is established, they will lose access."

ICM has vowed to fight any government efforts to compel its use and cited preregistrations of more than 76,000 names — with more arriving daily — as evidence of industry support. Critics contend that many Web sites have reserved names simply to prevent someone else from taking them.

Meanwhile, religious groups worry that ".xxx" would legitimize and expand the number of adult sites, which more than a third of U.S. Internet users visit each month, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Given its voluntary nature, ".xxx" is unlikely to have much effect on parents' ability to block porn sites. And because a domain name serves merely as an easy-to-remember moniker for a site's actual numeric Internet address, even if its use is required, a child could simply punch in the numeric address of any blocked ".xxx" name.

ICANN tabled and effectively rejected a similar proposal in 2000 out of fear the ".xxx" domain would force the body into content regulation.

ICM resubmitted its proposal in 2004, this time structuring it with a policy-setting organization to free ICANN of that task. But many board members worried that the language of the proposed contract was vague and could kick the task back to ICANN. The board rejected the 2004 proposal in May 2006.

ICANN revived the issue in January after ICM agreed to new contract language following concerns raised by GAC and others. ICM revised it again a month later to clarify ICANN's enforcement abilities.

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