Your Whois information is recorded forever

Exemptions for registrars in Whois data protection

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has published the rules of procedure that will allow registrars to restrict public access to the Whois entries of their domain customers in the future. There has long been a dispute about the question of whether private domain owners should be granted more data protection with regard to their entries in the Whois database in the future. The Whois service not only provides information about a searched domain, whether it already exists or not, but also some data on the domain owner and various contact persons, such as administrative, technical and billing contact (Admin-C, Tech-C etc.) . The dispute over Whois data protection has been boiling for years and has so far always been decided in favor of the transparency required in particular by the US administration. Most recently, ICANN postponed a decision on data protection for Whois again.

The entry of personal data in the open Whois databases of the registries supervised by ICANN for .com, .org, .info, .tel or other address zones violates stricter data protection laws outside the USA. Data protection activists in Europe are particularly critical of ICANN's Whois practice. Since 2003, there has been a struggle for exemptions for European and Canadian companies. From January 17th, such companies can now present themselves to ICANN and obtain permission to publish restricted Whois information for their customers.

With such a regulation, further debates about a stronger data protection friendliness of the Whois, which have led to bitter trench warfare within the ICANN bodies, could be settled, my observers. In the opinion of Tom Keller, however, it is not yet clear from the German registrar 1 & 1 what the registrars (i.e. the domain registration service providers for end customers) or registries (i.e. the operators of the domain registration databases) who, like Afilias, do not come from the USA, are required to do in order to really benefit from the exemption.

According to the rules provided by ICANN, companies can only apply for such an exception if an investigation, legal proceeding, administrative proceeding or other process by a government agency or a civil plaintiff has actually been initiated against them. ICANN then wants to be informed about procedures and the legal bases on the basis of which the current Whois practice is attacked. As far as practically possible, ICANN wants to contact the relevant authorities in order to get an idea of ​​the situation. The registrar or registry in question must also explain to ICANN what it has done to comply with both the contractual obligations regarding whois towards ICANN and the respective national laws.

"We would like it if there would be talks between data protection officers and registrars in this country, and if we got a uniform national regulation," says Keller. According to Keller, ICANN could hardly object to a clear regulation or order that would apply equally to all registrars. However, if there is no such thing, you run the risk, among other things, that objections from third parties make it difficult to find a clear solution in terms of data protection. In the case of the British registry Telnic (.tel), the representatives of copyright and trademark interests in particular took a stand against the restriction of access to the data and ultimately prevailed.

Resistance to the removal of exact postal and e-mail addresses and phone numbers of the actual domain owner from the publicly accessible Whois databases is particularly high in the USA. Politicians and representatives of various US departments and agencies have repeatedly stated that open access, which is not dependent on judicial orders, is essential in the hunt down of cybercriminals. Opponents, on the other hand, warned of the misuse of the information in the Whois. Proposals for graduated access rights, also for parties who saw their naming or copyrights impaired, have been rejected in many cases and changes have so far been blocked for the long term.

The effect of the new process is still difficult to predict, says Keller. However, if a more data-efficient solution prevails in Germany and also in Europe as a whole, this will also have an impact on registries and registrars in the USA. "That would be a culture import in the opposite direction," says Keller.

For the dispute over the Whois see also:

(Monika Ermert) / (jk)

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