US politicians in `cybersquat' war

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The Independent Online
HOW CAN an ambitious US political candidate play really dirty in these jaded times? On the Internet, of course. From the country that dreamt up the dark art of political burglary and the even darker art of shaming a rival through sexual revelations comes a very Nineties spin on negative campaigning: grabbing all possible permutations of an opponent's website.

In San Francisco, where November's mayoral race is bringing out the very worst in several prospective candidates, the incumbent Willie Brown was incensed to discover recently that dozens of names he might have wanted, from the straight-arrow to the more playful, had already been registered and paid for by his most dangerous opponent, the real estate magnate Clint Reilly. The Reilly camp even hogged for good measure.

Meanwhile, in New York's increasingly vicious Senate race, both of next year's prospective candidates are being beset by web woes. Rudolph Giuliani, New York City's Republican mayor, successfully registered the pithy Internet name only to discover a group of jokers had snapped up and posted a superficially convincing parody site detailing his supposed admiration for Baby Doc Duvalier, the erstwhile dictator of Haiti.

Hillary Clinton was so determined to secure that she agreed to pay $6,000 (pounds 3,750) to get it back from an enterprising cyberspace freak who had snapped it up.

It seems there is nothing a candidate can do about such flagrant examples of "cybersquatting": that is, denying other people a website name for malicious or commercial reasons. All it takes to register a website is a proposed name and a $70 fee - opening the field not only to spiteful opponents and parodists but also to ethically dubious business tycoons.