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The plug won’t be pulled on SA’s internet

Mike Lawrie, the administrator of the ZA domain on the internet, on Friday denied that he would shut it down.

”I care too much about the development of electronic communication to allow anything to go wrong while I am the administrator,” he said in a statement.

Lawrie was earlier reported as saying he would not hand over control of the domain if the Electronic Communications and Transactions (ECT) Bill allowed for government interference in internet administration.

The majority of parties in the National Assembly on Friday approved the bill, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) opposing it and the Afrikaner Unity Movement abstaining. It will now be forwarded to the National Council of Provinces for approval before being signed into law by the president.

Namespace ZA, an organisation formed under the auspices of the SA Chapter of the Internet Society to take over the administration from Lawrie, also said it had not threatened to disconnect South Africa from the world-wide web.

”Namespace ZA believes that there is no current or anticipated risk to connectivity in South Africa.”

The organisation said the redrafted bill still did not allay its fears of government control.

”Namespace ZA does not believe that the current draft of Chapter X (the one dealing with domain name authority and administration) represents a public-private sector partnership as has been suggested…

”In addition, Namespace ZA, does not perceive the current draft… to constitute a meaningful departure… from the original chapter… which continues to indicate a management infrastructure in conflict with a democratically acceptable administration systems.”

Lawrie said he had been trying for years to find an acceptable alternative administrator so he could relinquish the task, for which he was not paid.

”That is why Namespace ZA was formed… with my approval, especially as it invited government to be represented.”

On Friday communications Minister, Ivy Matesepe-Casaburri, tried to reassure critics that she had no intention of controlling electronic commerce in South Africa through powers granted to her in the controversial e-commerce bill.

Speaking during the debate on the Electronic Communications and Transactions Bill, she acknowledged private sector reservations about the powers outlined in the bill.

”Today I wish to assure all South Africans there is no intention whatsoever to control the use of electronic commerce in the country as only the issues pertaining to security and the promotion of universal access have been delegated to the minister.”

While e-commerce required flexible legislation, it was the responsibility of the government of the day to ensure that transactions were conducted in a secure environment, Matsepe-Casaburri said.

”At the same time, government has an inalienable mandate to create the necessary conditions for the majority of our citizens particularly the poorest of the poor to participate in e-commerce.”

On the controversy around the establishment of a domain name agency, Matsepe-Casaburri said the involvement of all stakeholders in the control and the management of countries domain names was something that was being considered across the globe.

In February 2002, Stuart Lynn of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the global agency responsible for the management of the world’s domain names – called for a complete review of the current system of domain name governance.

According to Lynn, the current approach, which excluded governments and other key players, was not working, Matsepe-Casaburri said. To reform the current system Lynn proposed that a new model of public-private partnerships be adopted, lest the internet community remain isolated.

”In line with this thinking from ICANN, we have proposed that to ensure the effective management of the country’s domain names we should establish a Section 21 Domain Name Agency,” said Matsepe-Casaburri.

A board of directors comprising representatives of various stakeholders – government, private sector, academia, community, and so on – would be appointed to oversee the work of the agency.

”As South Africans we must therefore consider ourselves fortunate because we have been able to proactively hatch an inclusive mechanism for domain name governance as outlined in this Bill,” Matsepe-Casaburri said.

However, Mike Lawrie, the current administrator of dotza internet sites, says government control could lead to a ”national disaster”.

”The Bill, as I understand the current draft, is unacceptable to many of the Internet community, giving very wide powers over the domain namespace to a Minister of government.”

”The Bill, when it becomes an Act, will prevent me from administering the domain, so I will have to remove the domain from the computer that has

the definitive pointers for all of the subdomains of ZA (for example,,,, and so on),” said Lawrie.

This essentially means that throughout the Internet, when someone types in an URL that has a ‘.za’ on the end, the response will be ‘nonexistent host’, said Lawrie.

”All ZA hosts will become invisible to the Internet,” says Lawrie who calls this a ”potential crisis”.

Lawrie says he would prefer ”government involvement, not control” of the administration and has made this clear to the PCC (Portfolio Committee on Communications).

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee of Communications, Nkenke Kekana, said that government has a responsibility to provide certain levels of security on the Internet.

”We need a minimum standard of security for critical databases,” said Kekana.

Kekana said the goal is to recreate what we feel safe about in the normal environment, in cyberspace.

”We need to create a structure that will be accountable and representative. The Internet belongs to no-one,” he said. – Sapa

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Riaan Wolmarans
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