Friday, February 08, 2008

Australian domain name system for Germany?

In his talk on Wednesday, Martin Backes a postgraduate researcher at UNSW's Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, proposed that Germany adopt Australia's web domain administration system. He also found some problems with the Australian system for .GOV.AU

Martin is doing a PHD on administering domain names, with a view to recommend changes for Germany, based on practice in Australia and other countries. He is mainly looking at domain names for local government. AN issue Martin sees with Germany is that it doesn't have a sub-level domain structure. As an example, there is no for government domains.

The German central registry, DENIC, is a non-profit, non-government entity, which is not contracted by government to provide the service, but is perceived by government as doing a good job. The registrar doesn't check ownership of business names or legality, but would become involved if informed the domain name is not appropriate (such as not registering Nazi terms which are banned under German law).

The German system contrasts with the Australia situation where there are four levels of domains names in some cases (, with names checked for legal rights and conflicts with other owners.

Martin used the example of local councils, which are a fourth level domain, under state government. As a result name conflicts are less likely, with councils in different states being able to have the same name. However, it is not clear exactly who is playing what role and what the dispute resolution process in the government case. This may be just a difference of approach in Australia, where governments don't make formal contracts and use a less formal approach to dispute resolution.

The German civil code (BGB) section 12 protects the use of names, but German courts took some time to recognize that domain names were names (not technical codes like phone numbers). The courts also needed to work out who should own a commonly used name like "Heidelberg", which is the name of a city, people and companies. The general rule is "first come first served", but with exceptions for well known persons (such as the company "Shell" being better known than any natural person with that name).

Martin on the whole seems to see the Australian approach as good. Apart from what word to use ("GOV" not being a German abbreviation).

But an issue I suggested he needs to addresse is if the association with government is a useful one. As an example, in Australia some services are provided by government and some by non-government services, such as water, power, telecommunications, medical services, security, garbage collection, education. There is also a fifth level of quasi-government in Australia for body corporates which run cluster housing; these may provide services such as roads, energy, garbage collection, parks and telecommunications, with their own governing bodies and office holders.

If the issue is how the citizen can work out if the web site is one providing quality services, then this is a separate one from if it is an official government service. It would be possible, for example, to have a certification scheme to endorse organizations, which could be expressed via the domain name.

What is a government service and what is private varies over time and from place to place. What might be interesting would be to compare how cluster housing is serviced and governed in Australia, Hong Kong, China and Germany, to see if there is commonality.

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