ICANN earmarks domains record WhoIs for the scrapheap


Interim report says current, free-access method of providing domain ownership details is outdated, and should be replaced with a system that checks validity of information requests

The WhoIs directory of domain name ownership should be scrapped, according to a report from its managing body the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). As NewLegal Review reported in January, ICANN pledged to review the effectiveness of the system late last year, and the report has emerged from the early stages of that research.

Currently, WhoIs records of which parties own registered generic Top-Level domains (gTLDs), are freely available to the public and accessible on an anonymous basis. As such, the directory has often been the first port of call when lawyers have sought to determine the identity of abusive registrants in domain disputes. However, ICANN Board chair Dr Stephen D Crocker stressed that the domain name system (DNS) is now far more complex than it was when WhoIs was unveiled 25 years ago, in the early days of the internet. Meanwhile, lobbyists in ICANN’s Business Constituency took the harsher view that WhoIs was ‘broken’ and inaccurate.

Compiled by an Expert Working Group (EWG), the new report has very much echoed the Business Constituency’s line. ‘After working through a broad array of use cases and the myriad issues they raised,’ the report said, ‘the EWG concluded that today’s WhoIs model – giving every user the same anonymous public access to (too often inaccurate) gTLD registration data – should be abandoned. Instead, the EWG recommends a paradigm shift whereby gTLD registration data is collected, validated and disclosed for permissible purposes only – with some data elements being accessible only to authenticated requestors that are then held accountable for appropriate use.’

Under those proposals, the ‘permissible purposes’ for which information requests would be granted include:

• Domain name research
• Domain name sale and purchase
• Regulatory enforcement
• Personal data protection
• Legal actions
• Abuse mitigation

While this preserves the ability to obtain details required for prosecuting domain abuses, the proposed record of ‘authenticated requestors’, and a system for vetting queries before they are processed, suggest that lawyers face a much more bureaucratic future as they try to source valuable ownership information. However, the EWG’s position is that the data itself will be of a far higher quality.

A PDF of the full report is available hereThe EWG has invited stakeholders to comment on its proposals by email via input-to-ewg@icann.org