Virtual Red Light District

[Note to search engine visitors: This post is by far the most visited on my blog thanks to hundreds of people searching for “red light district” and similar phrases. I’m very curious to know what you folks are looking for. Porn? An article on Amersterdam’s red light district? Something else? Please take a moment and leave a comment to let me know what you’d hoped to find. Thanks for your consideration. 🙂 – Management]

Red Light District in AmsterdamWords cannot adequately express how absolutely flabbergasted by this I am. That's never stopped me from trying, though, so here goes.

Bush administration objects to .xxx domains
"The Bush administration is objecting to the creation of a .xxx domain, saying it has concerns about a virtual red-light district reserved exclusively for Internet pornography."

"Michael Gallagher, assistant secretary at the Commerce Department, has asked for a hold to be placed on the contract to run the new top-level domain until the .xxx suffix can receive further scrutiny. The domain was scheduled to receive final approval Tuesday."

"'The Department of Commerce has received nearly 6,000 letters and e-mails from individuals expressing concern about the impact of pornography on families and children,' Gallagher said in a letter that was made public on Monday."


"After ICANN's vote to approve .xxx, conservative groups in the United States called on their supporters to ask the Commerce Department to block the new suffix. The Family Research Council, for instance, warned that 'pornographers will be given even more opportunities to flood our homes, libraries and society with pornography through the .xxx domain.'"


"ICANN's vote this year represents an abrupt turnabout from the group's earlier stance. In November 2000, the ICANN staff objected to the .xxx domain and rejected ICM Registry's first application.&quot

&quot At the time, politicians lambasted ICANN's move. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., demanded to know why ICANN didn't approve .xxx 'as a means of protecting our kids from the awful, awful filth, which is sometimes widespread on the Internet.' Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., told (click for PDF) a federal commission that .xxx was necessary to force adult Webmasters to 'abide by the same standard as the proprietor of an X-rated movie theater.'&quot

&quotA government report from a few years ago hints that the Bush administration could choose unilaterally to block .xxx from being added to the Internet's master database of domains. The report notes that the Commerce Department has 'reserved final policy control over the authoritative root server.'&quot

Huh?! What could these people possibly be opposed to? Let's find out.

"Pornographers will be given even more opportunities to flood our homes, libraries and society with pornography through the .XXX domain. The Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet's nonprofit body with authority for development, has indicated that it will establish an .XXX domain for porn Web sites. To some this may initially seem like a good idea but it is one that has been considered and rejected as ineffectual for years. This will NOT require pornographers who are on the .com domain to relocate to the .XXX domain."

There are actually multiple fallacious arguments presented here. First of all, just because an idea has been debated and previously regarded by a particular majority at particular times as "ineffectual", does not mean it would be so in practice. Secondly, a policy can not be called ineffectual if it has never been put into practice. Thirdly, the argument that pornographers would not be forced to move their web sites is a red herring. Certainly one could argue that requiring the use of .xxx would increase the utility of the domain, but simply the fact that established sites would not have to move does not address how new sites, which would presumably be required to use .xxx, would be affected.

The use of such a "red light district" domain would make filtering pop-ups, redirections, and spam significantly easier. The problem wouldn't magically go away, mostly due to unscrupulous site owners ignoring laws, but at least compliant sites could be easily blocked. IP- or domain-based filtering is currently extremely problematic because sites can move so easily and quickly, but blocking an entire top-level domain is trivially simple.

"Some naively suggest that passing a new law to force pornographers to move to .XXX will solve the problem but that will not work either. Law means nothing to hardcore pornographers. There already is a law prohibiting them from selling hardcore porn on the Internet-anywhere on the Internet- yet they have been doing if [sic] for years."

We're being asked to swallow a lot of "facts" without proof or reference. No evidence is given or cited for the proposition that forcing pornographers to use .xxx would not work. Asserting that law meaning nothing to hardcore pornographers is meaningless. I could just as easily say that law means nothing to murderers or corporate CEOs. We still have laws to deal with their misbehavior. As for pre-existing law, what's it called and where can I find it? How does it define hardcore pornography? What aspects are illegal? What punishments are prescribed? Don't tell me people are scofflaws without explaining what law's they're skirting.

"Attorney General Gonzales is launching a major effort to prosecute the porn industry. He intends to smash these criminal enterprises on the Internet and elsewhere with a new obscenity strike force. This is the only way to handle hardcore pornographers."

The far right's strategy for dealing with pornography reminds me of their abortion policies. To them it has to be banned and God h
elp you if you want to make some intermediate progress to at least curb it. Sometimes I wonder if they avoid incremental measures for fear of losing so-called "values voters". I mean if problems are mostly under control, they can't hook people with alarmist hyperbole.

"The .XXX domain will increase not decrease porn on the Internet."

And you can prove that how?! Perhaps this earlier FRC press release is clearer.

"The new domain would do more harm than good. The '.com' domain has been a cash cow for the porn industry and pornographers will not give it up and remove themselves to the '.xxx' domain. Instead, they will populate the '.xxx' domain and perhaps double the number of porn sites available on the Web."

Pornography, like any other commodity, is subject to market forces. If there's demand, there'll be supply. This means there are two flaws to FRC's assertion: the root problem to be solved is really demand and if there's was already enough demand to open twice as many sites, they'd be open already as .com sites. A more likely scenario is that either .com or .xxx domains would be set up to redirect visitors to the other. There wouldn't really be twice as many sites, just possible another way to find each site.

"The '.xxx' domain also cloaks the porn industry with legitimacy. The industry will have a place at the table in developing and maintaining their new property."

Do real red light districts legitimize prostitution? Anyhow, they already have a place at the table and they're making a lot of money from it. I would see .xxx as more of a ghetto than a sign of legitimacy. It'd be kind of like Mos Eisley Cantina – a "wretched hive of scum and villainy".

"Creating a virtual red light district may also discourage law enforcement from bringing obscenity cases on the notion that the problem is solved."

So now we're resorting to speculative psychology? What evidence do we have that such a thing would happen? What legal precedent do we have? How many obscenity laws are enforceable on the internet, anyhow? Any?

To me, pornography is a First Amendment issue. No matter how much I'd love to see that filth banned, I would never persue such a dream because porn is protected expression. However, there are a number of reasonable limitations on free speech and expression and I think some should be added to those that deal with porn. Establishing a .xxx domain could be a good start in that direction.

For more information about fighting internet porn, check out

If you're a Catholic who struggles with addiction to pornography, be sure to check out the Catholic Support Group for Sexual Addiction Recovery.