The UK government is set to pass a controversial law that will create powers to regulate domain names more or less arbitrarily and even seize control of the .uk registry.
The Digital Economy Bill is best known for its Draconian anti-piracy provisions, but it also gives the relevant Secretary of State the power to replace Nominet as the .uk registry manager.
To oust Nominet, the secretary of state would have to decide that certain fairly broad criteria had been met. Quoting from the bill’s explanatory notes:
The registry itself, its end-users (that is, owners of or applicants for domain names) or registrars (that is, agents of end-users) have been engaging in practices prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State which are unfair or which involve the misuse of internet domain names; or
The registry’s arrangements for dealing with complaints in connection with domain names do not comply with requirements prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.
The practices in question are expected to include: cybersquatting, drop-catching, “pressure sales tactics”, phishing, distributing malware, spamming or “intentionally misleading the public into believing there is a connection between the domain name owner and other organisations”.
Basically, the daily background noise of the internet.
The Secretary of State gets to decide, after “consultation”, what the bad acts should be. The Secretary of State also gets to decide how Nominet should deal with complaints about these bad acts.
If the Secretary of State decides to enforce his new powers, Nominet would get a chance to defend itself before a jury entirely consisting of: the Secretary of State.
If the Secretary of State decides Nominet has failed to adequately defend itself, he can then appoint a new .uk manager to replace it.
Are you seeing a pattern here? When this bill passes, the Secretary of State has Nominet by the balls.
And it will almost certainly pass. What’s more, it’s set to pass without any Parliamentary debate.
This afternoon the bill was given a date of April 6 for its second reading in the House of Commons. This is the day that Parliament is expected to be dissolved for a month’s campaigning ahead of a May 6 general election.
This qualifies the bill for the so-called “wash-up” process, under which laws can be enacted with back-room deals between the main parties, no public debate necessary.
Makes one slightly embarrassed to be English.