Commercial Websites Can Keep Domain Data Hidden

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By Joseph Wright

Dec. 8 — Internet policymakers working on new rules for domain name privacy services have scrapped the controversial idea of prohibiting commercial entities from shielding their contact information from public view, according to a report obtained by Bloomberg BNA.

The report, drafted by a working group within the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, also allows law firms and other entities that register domain names on behalf of clients to opt out of a rigorous set of privacy and proxy service accreditation procedures.

The working group, faced with widespread public opposition to the idea of making privacy services off-limits to commercial website operators, decided that new accreditation standards shouldn't require providers to distinguish between different kinds of users.

Comments Support Proxy Registrations for All

Domain name registrars commonly offer proxy registration as part of their domain registration services. Anyone looking up contact information for the domain through the publicly available Whois database is directed to the proxy service rather than the true registrant.

As part of the 2013 registrar accreditation agreement with ICANN, registrars agreed to temporary proxy registration rules until an accreditation scheme could be developed.

The Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues Working Group received over 11,000 separate comments as well as a petition with 10,000 signatures demanding that proxy registration remain open to all Internet users (20 ECLR 983, 7/15/15).

“We got more public comments on this issue than anything in the history of ICANN,” working group member Christian Dawson, chairman and co-founder of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 8. “Many of the public comments were strong, and frequently they were very poignant.”

Dawson said he spoke to a hairdresser who rents a space in someone else's studio and who feared that losing proxy registration meant making her home address publicly available.

Doxxing and the physical safety of potentially vulnerable people and entities such as women's shelters were also among the concerns that led the group to drop the commercial use restriction, Dawson said. Doxxing is the practice of Internet-based researching and broadcasting private information about individuals in order to encourage harassment campaigns against them.

IP Holders Get New Unmasking Process

The working group developed a framework for proxy service providers to take in and act upon requests from intellectual property rights holders for the identity of individuals allegedly using the Internet for infringing purposes.

“We found a way to get to common ground that met the needs of rights holders while still protecting the privacy of customers, especially customers who don't appear to be doing anything wrong,” working group member Darcy Southwell, compliance officer at Endurance International Group, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 8.

Under the working group's proposal, the identity of the domain name registrant would be shared only with the requesting rights holder, not with the general public.

The group didn't develop a similar framework for requests from law enforcement authorities, but it recommended that any future framework require authorities to use information for narrow, relevant purposes and exempt disclosures if they would endanger the safety of the customer. It also recommended complying with requests made by law enforcement authorities not to notify the customer whose identity was requested.

The drafting group's report will be submitted Dec. 8 to ICANN's primary policy-making body, the Generic Names Supporting Organization. The GNSO could adopt the report during its monthly call, send specific questions back to the working group or delay action until the next ICANN public meeting in March.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Wright in Washington at jwright@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Thomas O'Toole at totoole@bna.com

Full text of the working group report at http://src.bna.com/brY