Robin’s Cyberlaw Remix

Blogging Cyberspace and Intellectual Property Legal Issues by Robin Gross

ICANN’s “Data Valdez” – The Future of Whois Privacy Policy – Panel in New York City on 8 NovemberFrom IP Justice ~ 21 October 2006
The controversy over ICANN’s “Whois” personal data policy, which conflicts with a number of national and international privacy guarantees, is the topic of an upcoming panel discussion sponsored by the New York Internet Society.ICANN requires Internet domain name registrants to publish their personal information, like their home address and telephone number on the Internet in its “Whois” database. ICANN’s policy has caused a lot of problems for people because spammers use the personal information, the data is used to engage in identity theft, to send bogus legal demands, and silence freedom of expression on the Internet.

But reform of ICANN’s Whois policy has been underway – for 6 years – in its various Whois Task Forces and now at the level of GNSO Policy Council. In April 2006, ICANN’s GNSO Policy Council voted, by a 2/3 majority (18-9), to adopt the following definition for the purpose of Whois:

“The purpose of the gTLD Whois service is to provide information sufficient to contact a responsible party for a particular gTLD domain name who can resolve, or reliably pass on data to a party who can resolve, issues related to the configuration of the records associated with the domain name within a DNS nameserver.”

By adopting a narrow definition for the purpose of the Whois service, the uses to which the data may be put are also narrowed in accordance with international data protection laws. But this vote was one step in a long process, which is far from complete. ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) is now considering the implications of the GNSO Council vote and will make a formal a statement on the matter at the ICANN Board Meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil in early December. ICANN’s Non-Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC) will host a conference on the Whois privacy policy on 5 December during the ICANN Board Meeting in Sao Paulo.

Large Hollywood entertainment companies are among the greatest obstacles to reforming ICANN’s Whois privacy policy. Hollywood movie and music companies use the personal information to send bogus “cease and desist” letters to shut down websites they claim violate their intellectual property rights. Large trademark holders in all industries have made a regular practice of using the Whois information to shut down websites that are critical of their companies or products.

The fate of the Whois privacy policy is far from certain and there is a growing concern that ICANN remains too heavily influenced by US IPR industries. Reform of the Whois privacy policy provides the perfect opportunity for ICANN to demonstrate its claimed independence from the US Government and comply with international privacy standards and the w ishes of the international community by reforming its policy to protect Internet users’ private information from abuse.

“The Future of Whois Policy” panel discussion will be held in New York City at Jefferson Market Public Library from 6-8 pm. The impressive list of speakers include:

~ Jon Nevett, Chair of the ICANN Registrars Constituency; VP Policy & Ethics, Network Solutions
~ Attorney Wendy Seltzer, North American representative, ICANN At-Large Advisory Committee
~ Attorney Bruce A. McDonald, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP
~ Jordyn Buchanan, Chair ICANN WHOIS Task Force
~ Jeff Neuman, Senior Director, Law, Advanced Services and Business Development, NeuStar Inc.
~ Attorney Rita Rodin, ICANN Board of Directors
~ FTC representative

So if you are lucky enough to be in NYC on 8 November, check out the NY Internet Society’s panel discussion and become involved in protecting your online privacy rights.

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