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Governments demand Whois reopened within a year

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN’s government advisers wants cops, trademark owners and others to get access to private Whois data in under a year from now.

The Governmental Advisory Committee wants to see “considerable and demonstrable progress, if not completion” of the so-called “unified access model” for Whois by ICANN66 in Montreal, a meeting due to kick off November 4 this year.

The demand came in a letter (pdf) last week from GAC chair Manal Ismail to her ICANN board counterpart Cherine Chalaby.

She wrote that the GAC wants “phase 2” of the ongoing Expedited Policy Development Process on Whois not only concluded but also implemented “within 12 months or less” of now.

It’s a more specific version of the generic “hurry up” advice delivered formally in last month’s Kobe GAC communique.

It strikes me as a ludicrously ambitious deadline.

Phase 2 of the EPDP’s work involves deciding what “legitimate interests” should be able to request access to unredacted private Whois data, and how such requests should be handled.

The GAC believes “legitimate interests include civil, administrative and criminal law enforcement, cybersecurity, consumer protection and IP rights protection”.

IP interests including Facebook want to be able to vacuum up as much data as they want more or less on demand, but they face resistance from privacy advocates in the non-commercial sector (which want to make access as restrictive as possible) and to a lesser extent registries and registrars (which want something as cheap and easy as possible to implement and operate that does not open them up to legal liability).

Ismail’s letter suggests that work could be sped up by starting the implementation of stuff the EPDP group agrees to as it agrees to it, rather than waiting for its full workload to be complete.

Given the likelihood that there will be a great many dependencies between the various recommendations the group will come up with, this suggestion also comes across as ambitious.

The EPDP group is currently in a bit of a lull, following the delivery of its phase 1 report to ICANN, which is expected to approve its recommendations next month.

Since the phase 1 work finished in late February, there’s been a change of leadership of the group, and bunch of its volunteer members have been swapped out.

Volunteers have also complained about burnout, and there’s been some pressure for the pace of work — which included four to five hours of teleconferences per week for six months — to be scaled back for the second phase.

The group’s leadership has discussed 12 to 18 months as a “realistic and desirable” timeframe for it to reach its Initial Report stage on the phase 2 work.

For comparison, it published its Initial Report for phase 1 after only six stressful months on the job, and not only have its recommendations not been implemented, they’ve not even been approved by ICANN’s board of directors yet. That’s expected to happen this Friday, at the board’s retreat in Istanbul.

With this previous experience in mind, the chances of the GAC getting a unified Whois access service implemented within a year seem very remote.

Karklins beats LaHatte to chair ICANN’s Whois privacy team

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2019, Domain Policy

Latvian diplomat and former senior WIPO member Janis Karklins has been appointed chair of the ICANN working group that will decide whether to start making private Whois records available to trademark owners.

Karklins’ appointment was approved by the GNSO Council last week. He beat a single rival applicant, New Zealand’s Chris LaHatte, the former ICANN Ombudsman.

He replaces Kurt Pritz, the former ICANN Org number two, who quit the chair after it finished its “phase one” work earlier this year.

Karklins has a varied resume, including a four-year stint as chair of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

He’s currently Latvia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, as well as president of the Arms Trade Treaty.

Apparently fighting for Latvia’s interests at the UN and overseeing the international conventional weapons trade still gives him enough free time to now also chair the notoriously intense and tiring Expedited Policy Development Process on Whois, which has suffered significant burnout-related volunteer churn.

But it was Karklins’ one-year term as chair of the general assembly of WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization, that gave some GNSO Council members pause.

The EPDP is basically a big bloodless ruck between intellectual property lawyers and privacy advocates, so having a former WIPO bigwig in the neutral hot seat could be seen as a conflict.

This issue was raised by the pro-privacy Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group during GNSO Council discussions last week, who asked whether LaHatte could not also be brought on as a co-chair.

But it was pointed out that it would be difficult to find a qualified chair without some connection to some interested party, and that Karklins is replacing Pritz, who at the time worked for a new gTLD registry and could have had similar perception-of-conflict issues.

In the end, the vote to confirm Karklins was unanimous, NCSG and all.

The EPDP, having decided how to bring ICANN’s Whois policy into compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation, is now turning its attention to the far trickier issue of a “unified access model” for private Whois data.

It will basically decide who should be able to request access to this data and how such a system should be administered.

It will not be smooth sailing. If Karklins thinks international arms dealers are tricky customers, he ain’t seen nothing yet.

ICANN to approve new UDRP provider

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN is set to approve a new UDRP provider at a board of directors meeting next week.

May 3, the board will approve the Canadian International Internet Dispute Resolution Centre as its sixth approved provider and the second based in North America.

The resolution to approve its now year-old application is on the consent agenda for next week’s meeting, meaning the decision to approve has basically already been made.

CIIDRC is a division of the British Columbia International Commercial Arbitration Centre, a non-profit set up by the BC government in the 1980s.

It’s been exclusively handling cybersquatting disputes over .ca domain names since 2002, under a deal with local registry CIRA.

The organization reckons it will be ready to start accepting complaints within a few months of approval, and could handle up to 200 cases per month.

It had a roster of 26 panelists in rotation at the time it applied to ICANN for UDRP approval, many of whom also provide their expertise to other UDRP providers such as WIPO and NAF.

Amazon tells power-hungry governments to get stuffed

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2019, Domain Policy

Amazon has rejected attempts by South American governments to make the would-be gTLD .amazon “jointly owned”.

In a letter to ICANN last week, Amazon VP of public policy Brian Huseman finally publicly revealed the price Amazon is willing to pay for its dot-brand, but said members of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization are asking for way too much power.

It turns out three of ACTO’s eight national government members have proposed solutions to the current impasse, but Amazon has had to reject them all for commercial and security reasons. Huseman wrote (pdf):

Some member states require that we jointly own and manage the .AMAZON TLDs. Some require that we give the member states advance notice and veto authority over all domain names that we want to register and use—for both trademarked terms as well as generic words. Some suggest a Governance Committee can work only if it has governance that outweighs Amazon’s voice (i.e. the Governance Committee has a representative from one of each of the eight member states, while Amazon has one); and some want to use .AMAZON for their own commercial purposes.

From Huseman’s description, it sounds like the ACTO nations basically want majority control (at least in terms of policy) of .amazon and the Chinese and Japanese translations, applications for which have been essentially frozen by ICANN for years.

Huseman told ICANN that Amazon cannot comply.

If the company were to give eight South American governments advanced notice and veto power over .amazon domains it planned to register, it would make it virtually impossible to contain its business secrets prior to the launch of new services, he said.

The governments also want the right to block certain unspecified generic strings, unrelated to the Amazon region, he wrote. Amazon can’t allow that, because its range of businesses is broad and it may want to use those domains for its own commercial purposes.

Amazon has offered to block up to 1,500 strings per TLD that “represent the culture and heritage of the Amazonia region”.

Nine .amazon domains would be set aside for actual usage, one for ACTO and one each for its members, “that have primary and well-recognized significance to the culture and heritage of the region”, but they’d have to use those domains non-commercially.

The proposal seems to envisage that the countries would select their two-letter country code as their freebie domain. Brazil could get br.amazon, for example.

They could also select the names of Amazonian indigenous peoples’ groups or “the specific terms OTCA, culture, heritage, forest, river, and rainforest, in English, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish.”

They would not to be allowed to use third-level domains, other than “www”.

The governments would have up to two years to populate the list of 1,500 banned terms. The strings would have to have the same “culture and heritage” nexus, and Amazon would get veto power over whether the proposed strings actually meet that test.

As the whole policy would be enshrined as a Public Interest Commitment in the .amazon registry contract with ICANN, ACTO members would be able to protest such rejections using the PIC Dispute Resolution Policy.

Amazon would also get veto power over the content of the web sites at the domains used by the governments. They’d have to be basically static sites, and all user-generated content would be strictly verboten.

It’s a power struggle, with little evident common ground once you get down into the details, and it’s likely going to be up to ICANN to decide whether Amazon’s proposal is sufficient to overrule the ACTO and Governmental Advisory Committee concerns.

ICANN had set a deadline of April 21 to receive the proposal. The timetable it has previously set out would see its board of directors make a decision (or punt it back to Amazon) at the Marrakech public meeting in late June.

However, board chair Cherine Chalaby has told ACTO that if it wants to negotiate a joint proposal with Amazon, it can still do so. ICANN would need to receive this revised proposal by June 7, he said.

Oh, the irony! Banned anti-Islam activist shows up on “Turkish” new gTLD domain

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2019, Domain Policy

Tommy Robinson, who has been banned from most major social media platforms due to his anti-Islam “hate speech”, is now conducting business via a domain name that some believe rightfully belongs to the Muslim-majority nation of Turkey.

The registration could add fuel to the fight between ICANN and its governmental advisers over whether certain domains should be blocked or restricted.

Robinson, the nom de guerre of the man born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the founder and former leader of the far-right English Defence League and known primarily for stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK for the last decade.

He’s currently, controversially, an adviser to the UK Independence Party. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, also a thoroughly unpleasant bloke, considers Robinson so far to the right he quit the party in response to the appointment.

Over the last year, Robinson has been banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and had his YouTube account placed under serious restrictions. This month, he was also banned from SnapChat, and the EDL he used to lead was among a handful of far-right groups banned from Facebook.

Since his personal Facebook page went dark in February, he’s been promoting his new web site as the primary destination for his supporters.

It features news about his activities — mainly his ongoing fights against social media platforms and an overturned contempt of court conviction in the UK — as well as summaries of basically any sufficiently divisive anti-Islam, anti-immigration, or pro-Brexit stories his writers come across.

The domain he’s using is tr.news, a new gTLD domain in a Donuts-owned registry. It was registered in December via GoDaddy.

Given it’s a two-character domain, it will have been registry-reserved and would have commanded a premium price. Other two-character .news domains are currently available on GoDaddy for between $200 and $10,000 for the first year.

It will come as no surprise at all for you to learn that the domain was transferred out of GoDaddy, which occasionally kicks out customers with distasteful views, to Epik, now de facto home of those with far-right views, a couple of weeks after the web site launched.

The irony of the choice of domain is that many governments would claim that tr.news — indeed any two-character domain, in any gTLD, which matches any country-code — rightfully belongs to Turkey, a nation of about 80 million nominal Muslims.

TR is the ISO 3166-1 two-character code for Turkey, and until a couple of years ago new gTLD registries were banned from selling any of these ccTLD-match two-letter domains, due to complaints from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

Many governments, including the UK and US, couldn’t care less who registers their matching domain. Others, such as France, Italy and Israel, want bans on specific domains such as it.pizza and il.army. Other countries have asked for blanket bans on their ccTLD-match being used at all, in any gTLD.

When new gTLDs initially launched in 2012, all ccTLD matches were banned by ICANN contract. In 2014, ICANN introduced a cumbersome government-approval system under which governments had to be consulted before their matches were released for registration.

Since December 2016, the policy (pdf) has been that registries can release any two-letter domains, subject to a provision that they not be used by registrants to falsely imply an affiliation with the country or registry with the matching ccTLD.

Robinson is certainly not making such an implication. I imagine he’d be as surprised as his readers to learn that his new domain has a Turkish connection. It’s likely the only people who noticed are ICANN nerds and the Turkish themselves.

Would the Turkish people look at tr.news and assume, from the domain alone, that it had some connection to Turkey? I think many would, though I have no idea whether they would assume it was endorsed by the government or the ccTLD registry.

Would Turkey — a government whose censorship regime makes Robinson’s social media plight look like unbounded liberalism — be happy to learn the domain matching its country code is being used primarily to deliver divisive content about the coreligionists of the vast majority of its citizens? Probably not.

But under current ICANN policy it does not appear there’s much that can be done about it. If Robinson is not attempting to pass himself of as an affiliate of the Turkish government or ccTLD registry, there’s no avenue for complaint.

However, after taking the cuffs off registries with its December 2016 pronouncement, allowing them to sell two-letter domains with barely any restrictions, ICANN has faced continued complaints from the GAC — complaints that have yet to be resolved.

The GAC has been telling ICANN for the last two years that some of its members believe the decision to release two-character names went against previous GAC advice, and ICANN has been patiently explaining the process it went through to arrive at the current policy, which included taking GAC advice and government comments into account.

In what appears to be a kind of peace offering, ICANN recently told the GAC (pdf) that it is developing an online tool that “will provide awareness of the registration of two-character domains and allow for governments to report concerns”.

The GAC, in its most-recent communique, told ICANN its members would test the tool and report back at the public meeting in Montreal this November.

The tool was not available in December, when tr.news was registered, so it’s not clear whether Turkey will have received a formal notification that its ccTLD-match domain is now registered, live, and being used to whip up mistrust of Muslims.

Update April 30: ICANN informs me that the tool has been available since February, but that it does not push notifications to governments. Rather, governments can search to see if their two-letter codes have been registered in which gTLDs.