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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
South African domain name tug-of-war
South African government web address
The government wants control of .za
South Africa has passed a controversial bill which would give control of the internet domain suffix, .za, to the government.

The .za domain is currently administered under a mandate from the international Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) by local internet pioneer Mike Lawrie.

Domain names
The .com and .uk type suffixes of addresses and websites form the basis of internet navigation.
The government has sought to take over .za's administration, which it says is currently "monopolistic" and without a regulatory framework, to manage an expected online boom.

But Mr Lawrie has criticised the legislation for giving too much power to the minister and warned of a "national disaster" if the system crashes due to incompetent administration.

A key provision of the bill will also give full legal recognition to electronic documents and signatures.

The Electronic Communication and Transactions Bill has now passed through both house of parliament and will become law when signed by President Thabo Mbeki.

Tug-of-war

"The bill enables us to have a secure environment for electronic communications and transactions, whether these be person-to-person, business-to-business, business-to-consumer or government-to-citizens," Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri told legislators.

Mike Lawrie
Mike Lawrie has hidden the .za source code

Ms Matsepe-Casaburri said the government wanted to ensure equitable access to the internet for all.

"There is no intention whatsoever to control the use of mechanisms such as the internet, which are essential for electronic commerce and transactions," the minister said.

The government has set up an administrator-in-waiting, Namespace, at the request of Mr Lawrie, who is also a board member, to take over control of the domain.

But Mr Lawrie recently moved the key domain-name file, a computer file of less than 200 lines of code which is key to the whole South African internet network, to an offshore computer server to keep it out of the governments hands.

Mr Lawrie is credited with pioneering the internet in South Africa while working at Rhodes University in the early 1980s.

See also:

24 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
15 Apr 02 | Africa
04 Dec 01 | Business
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