News that the White House hopes to enact a "Presidential Alert System" has some people worried about President Obama's position on executive control of the Internet, and opponents are already decrying the alert as part of the President's "Orwellian" efforts to "commandeer" online activities.
"Once again, the government has imposed an unreasonable and absurd mandate on business and the American people," wrote Kurt Nimmo at influential conservative website InfoWars.
He went on to liken the system, which would raise flags during national emergencies, like a terror attack, as a way for the government to "disseminate propaganda" and as a "total takeover" of the media.
This "President Alert" is only the latest uproars over the Obama administration's potential power over the internet. Last month, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee allowed legislation to go forward that would give the commander-in-chief control over "crucial components that form our nation's critical infrastructure" during an administration. Opponents have dubbed such a mechanism a "kill switch."
And then there's another online development, one that hits closer to LGBT home: the White House's attempts to create a governmental veto for certain domain suffixes, including the controversial .gay.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meets next month and will debate whether specific domain suffixes are appropriate and how they should be regulated. There are an estimated 115 applicants, including .movie, .nyc and .gay, a suffix two different gay organizations, The dotGay Initiative and the .Gay Alliance, are hoping to help cement in the virtual world.
The dotGay Initiative defines their purpose as establishing ".gay [as] an exemplary beacon of social entrepreneurship and an empowering resource for helping people live their lives better based on their own conscience and improved access to global resources in the community." And the .Gay Alliance, led by veteran media man Joe Dolce, says they want to "to create a reliable and ethical source of funding for LGBT Civil Rights by creating the .gay web address for the benefit of our community."
The Obama administration has remained relatively mum about its involvement in the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meeting, but the States' ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee sent proposals outlining their approval criteria, including the suggestion that governments be given veto power over domains that are objectionable to the admittedly hazy "morality and public order."
Online warriors are understandably wary of this stipulation.
"It's the U.S. government that's proposing this procedure, and they've shown absolutely no interest in standing up for free expression rights through this entire process," said Milton Mueller, professor of information studies at Syracuse University.
He also remarked, "If governments believe that gays (or other controversial ideas and communities) have a right to express their identity, they would not make their ability to get a domain name reflecting their identity contingent upon a review by a world government committee in which some members are sure to be hostile to their culture and lifestyle. Any government that really wants to uphold individual rights would not do what the U.S. is doing."
While it does appear the Obama administration and Department of Commerce, whose National Telecommunications and Information Agency helps regulates the Internet, are giving themselves a worrisome amount of control, there are complicated pitfalls to consider. For example, if every domain name was approved, who would regulate the suffix .bank or .pharmacy?
And the administration does appear to be leaving room for an override: "Any GAC member may raise an objection to a proposed string for any reason. If it is the consensus position of the GAC not to oppose objection raised by a GAC member or members, ICANN shall reject the application."
So, if a conservative country opposes a specific name, like .gay, the U.S. representative for GAC, Suzanne Sene, could raise an objection. Whether she would do so, however, has not been made clear. A Commerce Department spokesman simply said, "It is premature for us to comment on those domain names."
The Obama administration could help defuse left and right wing critiques not only by spelling out what types of suffixes it finds most problematic, and also by affirming the importance of .gay, a name that certainly falls under the government's rubric "community-based strings," suffixes which "represent or that embody a particular group of people or interests based on historical components of identity."
By supporting .gay, Obama would prove both that he's not dead set on controlling the Internet, thereby neutering some of the right wing outcry, as well as affirm his dedication to freedom of online expression and business, and he would show the LGBT community that he's got their back when it comes to establishing a virtual realm of our own.