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[dow2tf] ALAC recommendations for WHOIS Task Force 2

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  • Subject: [dow2tf] ALAC recommendations for WHOIS Task Force 2
  • From: Thomas Roessler <roessler@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 26 Mar 2004 17:47:01 +0100
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please find below a policy proposal from ALAC on how to change
the data elements collected and displayed.

For your information, our input for Task Force 1 is also included.

Unless we specifically speak about registrars, our remarks apply to
registrar and to thick registry WHOIS systems alike.

Thomas Roessler  <roessler@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
At-Large Advisory Committee: http://alac.info/

Task Force 2: Data elements displayed and collected

   Policy proposal
	We recommend that the mandatory collection and display of
	personal information about registrants be reduced as far as
	possible.  What information is actually required for placing
	a domain name registration should be a matter of registrars'
	business models, and of applicable law, not of ICANN policy.

	We consider the removal of the following data elements from
	registrars' and registries WHOIS services (in a tiered
	model, from *all* tiers) a priority:

	- registrant name, address, e-mail address, and phone
	  number, unless registrant has requested that this
	  information be made available.

	- administrative contact name, address, e-mail address, and
	  phone number, unless registrant (or admin-c) has requested
	  that this information be made available.

	- Billing contact.  These data are traditionally not
	  published by registrars, but are included in many thick
	  registries' public WHOIS services.

	For the purposes of a tiered access system (see
	recommendations for task force 1), we would recommend that
	the following information be included in a public tier:
	- Registrar of record.
	- Name servers.
	- Status of domain name.
	- Contact data, if the data subject specifically requests
	  that these data be included in the public tier.

   Implementation remarks

	For personal registrations, the registrant, administrative
	contact, and billing contact data sets are most likely to
	concern sensitive information, such as the registrant's home
	address and phone number.
	We recognize that domain name registrations by online
	merchants often imply less privacy concerns; it has been
	argued that online merchants must make privacy information
	public in many jurisdictions.  We are confident that
	businesses will also follow these duties by requesting
	registrars to make contact information about them available
	publicly.  Conversely, if bad actors decide not to make
	contact information publicly available, that could actually
	make bad actors more easily recognizable, and provide
	consumers with a "red flag."

   Discussion of other proposals
   	At the WHOIS workshop in Rome, we have heared several
	lawyers praise the usefulness of registrant and other
	telephone numbers in WHOIS services.  That way, we were
	told, many cases could be settled by a single phone call.
	The easier the contact, we were told, the merrier.

	This argument is troubling: What we were hearing there is a
	request to ICANN to enable lawyers to make off the record
	contact with other parties to a dispute that may not have a
	lawyer readily available, and to make this contact in a way
	which makes it hard for the registrant to get legal counsel
	involved in early negotiations arising out of the dispute.
	Telephone numbers of registrant and administrative contacts
	should be *removed* from WHOIS services for precisely this
	reason: Forcing the non-registrant party to a dispute to
	open up that dispute by on-the-record means (e-mail, fax
	[not universally available], postal mail) ensures that
	registrants have an opportunity to retain legal counsel in
	these disputes, and to fully understand any claims made by
	the non-registrant party.  It also helps to avoid legal
	bluff and plain bullying.

	To summarize, it may be true that availability of phone
	numbers enables quick settlement.  But availability of phone
	numbers also favors situations in which these settlements
	are achieved by dubious means, to the detriment of the

Task Force 1: Access to data

   Policy proposal

	We recommend a simple two-tiered system.
	Tier 1 -- public access.  Users who access a future
	WHOIS-like system anonymously get access to non-sensitive
	information concerning a domain name registration, to be
	defined in detail by task force 2.

	Tier 2 -- authenticated access.  Users who want to access a
	more complete data set (to be defined in detail by task
	force 2) need to reliably identify themselves, and indicate
	the purpose for which they want to access the data.

	The identity of the data user and their purpose is recorded
	by registrars and registries, and made available to
	registrants when requested.  This information could be
	withheld for a certain amount of time if the data user is
	(1) a law enforcement authority that is (2) accessing the
	data for law enforcement purposes.

   Implementation remarks
	We do not recommend any particular implementation of this
	proposal, but note that "reliable identification" could be
	provided by commercially available SSL certificates.  In
	general, we would favor implementation of our proposal in a
	dedicated protocol (such as IRIS) over implementation
	through Web forms.


	The key aspect for deciding whether access to data gathered
	by registrars can be given to a third party is the purpose
	for which this data is going to be used.  Obviously,
	registrars have no way to verify the purpose for which WHOIS
	data is being accessed.
	The best heurisitc we know of is to hold data users
	accountable for their activities, and to put enforcement of
	purpose limitations into the hands of registrants.  This can
	be achieved by reliably identifying data uses and putting
	their identity, contact information, and purpose indication
	in the hands of registrants.

	At the same time, a tiered system -- if implemented
	reasonably -- could preserve the ability of data users to
	automatically access WHOIS data in reasonable quantities.
	Registrars, on the other hand, would be enabled to limit the
	amount of data any particular party can access in a given
	interval of time.

	Identifying data users and their purposes would also enable
	registrars to comply with legal obligations to make this
	kind of information available to data subjects.

   Discussion of other proposals

	There have been suggestions that "automated access" could be
	used as a heuristic to determine illegitimate access.  In
	this scheme, automated access is blocked by attempting to
	require human attention with all queries.  One set of
	implementations of these kinds of tests is known as CAPTCHA.

	There is evidence that automated access is also being used
	for legitimate purposes; on the other hand, there is
	publicly available information on how CAPTCHA-like tests are
	being circumvented in other contexts.  The circumvention
	here is based on a fundamental design problem of CAPTCHAs.

	One particularly popular CAPTCHA has been broken in academic
	more than a year ago, but is still being used by registrars. 
	Accessibility problems posed by CAPTCHA-like tests are not
	fully understood by now; we note, though, that purely visual
	tests are insufficient from an accessibility point of view.

	In conclusion, CAPTCHA tests address the wrong problem, and
	they address it badly.  We strongly recommend against going
	down this path.

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