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Internet Naming Authority Plans to End Domain Name Privacy

Posted by: , 15:17 UTC, Sun June 28, 2015

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ICANN, under pressure from groups like the MPAA, propose ban on the use of domain privacy services for commercial websites
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Image/Photo Credit: tamburix @ Flickr, CC

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is proposing changes to current domain name regulation that would ban domain registrants from using domain privacy services.

Many registrants use domain privacy services such as Whoisguard to protect the their own privacy, to protect from unsolicited emails, and even fraud and identity theft.

But copyright groups have recently started the lobbying process to force ICANN to ban the use of domain privacy services, in a bid to make it easier for rights-holders to identify and sue domain registrants.

"Without accurate WHOIS data, there can be no accountability, and without accountability it can be difficult to investigate and remedy issues when individuals or organizations use the Internet in illegal or inappropriate ways," said Alex Deacon from Hollywood's copyright lobby, the MPAA.

"Ensuring this data is accurate is important not only to the MPAA and our members, but also to everyone who uses the Internet every day."

Under immense pressure from these lobby groups, ICANN has responded by issuing a draft report, which states:

"Although the WG agreed that the mere fact that a domain name is registered by a commercial entity or by anyone conducting commercial activity should not preclude the use of P/P services, there was disagreement over whether domain names that are actively used for commercial transactions (e.g. the sale or exchange of goods or services) should be prohibited from using P/P services. While most WG members did not believe such a prohibition is necessary or practical, some members believed that registrants of such domain names should not be able to use or continue using P/P services."

In other words, the proposal will no longer allow commercial websites to use WHOIS protection services.

The report has received heavy criticism not just from consumer groups, but also the Internet's largest domain name registrars, including Namecheap.

Digital rights group the EFF warned that the change will aid criminals in targeting businesses for identity theft, and other unwanted effects.

Without privacy protection, the real phone numbers, business addresses and email addresses of registrants will be exposed for anyone who wants to take advantage of the information for their illegal activities, while only a minuscule percentage of registered domains are actually currently engaged in the kind of activity that the MPAA and other copyright groups are warning about.

"The limited value of this change is manifestly outweighed by the risks to website owners who will suffer a higher risk of harassment, intimidation and identity theft," said the EFF's Mitch Stoltz.

The EFF also notes that copyright holders can already easily reveal the identity of domain name holders via existing legal processes, such as via a DMCA notification.

Namecheap sent out a mass mailing to all of its customers, urging them to take action to stop ICANN from implementing these changes.

"We think your privacy should be protected, regardless of whether your website is personal or commercial, and your confidential info should not be revealed without due process. If you agree, please contact ICANN right away and demand your right to privacy and due process. Let them know you object to any release of info without a court order. There's no time to waste -- the close date for comments is July 7, 2015," writes Namecheap, pointing users to a call-to-action website that they've set up in order to make it easier for those concerned to be heard.


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