New ICANN Working Group Could Have Big Impact on WHOIS Privacy Services

As we have detailed in previous posts, the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA), which is the formal contract between ICANN and registrars, contains a number of new provisions around selling and managing domain names. One important component which has not garnered much attention thus far, however, has to do with WHOIS privacy and proxy services.

There is a provision in the new RAA which requires registrars to comply with “any ICANN-adopted Specification or Policy that establishes a Proxy Accredited Program.” In practical terms, this means that by signing the 2013 RAA, registrars agree to follow any accreditation program ICANN should subsequently introduce. Note any such program wouldn’t be developed overnight; a group of volunteers would work together to develop recommendations that would either be accepted or rejected by the ICANN Board.

So what could possibly be in the program? While it’s a bit early to tell, this Working Group Charter outlines a number of important discussion topics:

– Whether registrars should abide by and publish standard service practices;

– The possibility of introducing base guidelines/rules around the relaying and revealing of contact information;

– Performing regular checks to ensure the accuracy of customer contact information;

– Labelling WHOIS entries to indicate when a registration is made through a privacy or proxy service;

– Maintaining dedicated points of contact for abuse;

– Discussing whether standardized processes can be introduced to provide law enforcement with access and data;

– Restricting WHOIS privacy/proxy services for commercial or personal purposes; specifically, the Working Group Charter states, “is the use of privacy/proxy services appropriate when a domain name is registered for commercial purposes?” It also asks, “Should the use of privacy/proxy services be restricted only to registrants who are private individuals using the domain name for non-commercial purposes?”

It’s important to note that while the Working Group Charter has established these topics (and others) as discussion points, there is no guarantee any of the points will be made into policy. It does, however, illustrate some of the concerns the community has with the current state of WHOIS privacy and proxy services, and some of the ideas which have been floated to solve them.

Forming a working group is an early step in the policy making process. It will be many months before we’ll know whether some (or all) of these topics will be formed into policy. Our plan is to participate in the group and provide input; be sure to keep an eye on this blog as the group begins its work.

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