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.ZA Musketeer?

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May 11, 2002
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S.African Internet Boss Hides Domain Key Abroad

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The administrator of South Africa's web addresses said on Thursday he had hidden the key to the country's ''.ZA'' domain network abroad to prevent any government interference in access to the Internet.

South Africa's parliament has given initial approval to a law that will allow the government to take control of the country's Internet address administration.

But critics, including ZA domain-name administrator Mike Lawrie, say the government has no right to stage the takeover and warn it could collapse the domestic Internet structure.

Lawrie, a South African Internet pioneer who is not paid for administrating the ZA domain, told Reuters he had taken pre-emptive action to stop the government from seizing control.

''The storage of the primary zone file that defines and controls the ZA namespace is now offshore,'' he said.

Lawrie said the zone file was 200 lines defining the structure of Internet sites and addresses ending in .ZA, which identifies the South African domain.

Lawrie said he had announced his action to signal to the global Internet community that the South African domain was secure despite the controversial legislation scheduled to pass its final parliamentary hurdle next week.

''If someone were to mistakenly corrupt the zone file in terms of trying to bulldoze their way in, they would not be able to do any damage,'' he said.

The new law is intended mainly to give legal status to Internet trades and contracts, but a section allows the state to take over domain name administration without consulting the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The government says the domain structure cannot be left in the hands of an individual, but must be protected by the state.

Critics say the government is obsessed with control and is trying to nationalize its corner of the Internet.

ICANN is the international Internet address administrator.

Under its rules, the administration of a national domain can only be reassigned with the consent of ICANN, that country's government and its Internet community.

Nkenke Kekana, chairman of the parliamentary committee that is piloting the Electronic Communication and Transactions Bill through the legislature, accused Lawrie of putting the country's Internet structure at risk.

''Mike Lawrie is the administrator of the domain name and he has a responsibility to ensure that the Internet is stable.

''It would amount to sabotage if he were to disrupt the Internet and he has to realize that he will be held responsible for any disruption,'' Kekana said.

Opposition Democratic Alliance legislator Dene Smuts, who was part of a small minority that voted against the bill, said Lawrie had done the right thing.

''I think it is the responsible thing to do in the circumstances. It ensures the continued stable operation of the domain and its sub-domains against whatever steps might follow.

''I think Mike Lawrie is a hero,'' she said.
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