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Whois headed for the scrap heap in “paradigm shift”

Kevin Murphy, June 25, 2013, Domain Policy

Whois’ days are numbered.

An “Expert Working Group” assembled by ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has proposed that the old Whois service we all love to hate be scrapped entirely and replaced with something (possibly) better.

After several months of deliberations the EWG today issued an audacious set of preliminary recommendations that would completely overhaul the current system.

Registrants’ privacy might be better protected under the new model, and parties accessing Whois data would for the first time have obligations to use it responsibly.

There’d also be a greater degree of data validation than we have with today’s Whois, which may appease law enforcement and intellectual property interests.

The new concept may also reduce costs for registries and registrars by eliminating existing Whois service obligations.

The EWG said in its report:

After working through a broad array of use cases, and the myriad of issues they raised, the EWG concluded that today’s WHOIS model—giving every user the same anonymous public access to (too often inaccurate) gTLD registration data—should be abandoned.

Instead, the EWG recommends a paradigm shift whereby gTLD registration data is collected, validated and disclosed for permissible purposes only, with some data elements being accessible only to authenticated requestors that are then held accountable for appropriate use.

The acronym being proposed is ARDS, for Aggregated Registration Data Services.

For the first time, gTLD registrant data would be centralized and maintained by a single authority — likely a company contracted by ICANN — instead of today’s mish-mash of registries and registrars.

The ARDS provider would store frequently cached copies of Whois records provided by registries and registrars, and would be responsible for validating it and handling accuracy complaints.

To do a Whois look-up, you’d need access credentials for the ARDS database. It seems likely that different levels of access would be available depending on the user’s role.

Law enforcement could get no-holds-barred access, for example, while regular internet users might not be able to see home addresses (my example, not the EWG’s).

Credentialing users may go some way to preventing Whois-related spam.

A centralized service would also provide users with a single, more reliable and uniform, source of registrant data.

Registrars and registries would no longer have to provide Whois over port 43 or the web, potentially realizing cost savings as a result, the EWG said.

For those concerned about privacy, the EWG proposes two levels of protection:

  • An Enhanced Protected Registration Service for general personal data privacy needs; and
  • A Maximum Protected Registration Service that offers Secured Protected Credentials Service for At-Risk, Free-Speech uses.

If I understand the latter category correctly, the level privacy protection could even trump requests for registrant data from law enforcement. This could be critical in cases of, for example, anti-governmental speech in repressive regimes.

The proposed model would not necessarily kill off existing privacy/proxy services, but such services would come under a greater degree of ICANN regulation than they are today.

It appears that there’s a lot to like about the EWG’s concepts, regardless of your role.

It is very complex, however. The devil, as always, will be in the details. ARDS is going to need a lot of careful consideration to get right.

But it’s a thought-provoking breakthrough in the age-old Whois debate, all the more remarkable for being thrown together, apparently through a consensus of group members, in such a short space of time.

The EWG’s very existence is somewhat controversial; some say it’s an example of Chehade trying to circumvent standard procedures. But it so far carries no official weight in the ICANN policy-making process.

Its initial report is currently open for public comment either via email direct to the group or planned webinars. After it is finalized it will be submitted to the ICANN board of directors.

The board would then thrown the recommendations at the Generic Names Supporting Organization for a formal Policy Development Process, which would create a consensus policy applicable to all registries and registrars.

With all that in mind, it’s likely to be a few years before (and if) the new model becomes a reality.

US and EU could be victims of ICANN power shift

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2013, Domain Policy

Europe and North America could see an influx of new nations under changes to the way ICANN defines geographic regions, potentially diluting the influence of EU states and the USA.

Europe could soon be joined by several Middle Eastern countries, while North America could be expanded to encapsulate Caribbean nations.

The changes, which would alter the composition of key ICANN decision-making bodies, could come as a result of the Geographic Regions Review Working Group, which delivered a draft final set of recommendations over the weekend, after four years of deliberations.

Among its conclusions, the WG found that there are “anomalies” in how ICANN handles regions and that countries should have the right to move to a different region if they choose.

ICANN has long divided the world into five regions (North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean) along unique and sometimes unusual lines.

The regions are used to ensure diversity in the make-up of its board of directors, among other things. ICANN’s bylaws state that no region may have more than five directors on the board.

The working group was tasked with figuring out whether the current geographic regions made sense, whether there should more or fewer regions, and whether some countries should change regions.

ICANN’s regions as they stand today have some weirdness.

Cyprus, for example, is categorized as being in Asia-Pacific, despite it floating in the Mediterranean, being a member of the European Union and largely speaking Greek.

Mexico and most Caribbean islands are in Latin America, as far as ICANN is concerned, leaving the US, Canada and US overseas territories as the North American region’s only eight members.

Then there are anomalies relating to “mother countries”. The Falkland Islands, for example, is physically found in the Latin American region but is classified as European by ICANN because it’s a British territory.

Under changes proposed by the working group, many of these anomalies could slowly shake themselves out.

But the working group decided against forcing nations from one region into another (with an opt-out) as had been proposed in 2011. Instead, countries could choose to change regions.

This is the key recommendation:

The Working Group recommends that the Board direct Staff to prepare and maintain ICANN’s own unique organizational table that clearly shows the allocation of countries and territories (as defined by ISO 3166) to its existing five Geographic Regions. The initial allocation should reflect the status quo of the current assignments. However, Staff should also develop and implement a process to permit stakeholder communities in countries or territories to pursue, if they wish, re-assignment to a geographic region that they consider to be more appropriate for their jurisdiction.

While this looks like a free-for-all — there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping France moving to Africa, for example — in practice the working group seems to be expecting certain shifts.

For example, some Middle Eastern nations had expressed an interest in moving from Asia-Pacific to Europe, while some Caribbean island states apparently feel more aligned with North America.

Assuming the recommendations are taken on board and regional switches are approved on a case-by-case basis, both North America and Europe could soon swell to include new countries.

The working group’s recommendations would avoid the seismic shifts previously envisaged, however.

There will be no separate region for Arab states, which had been requested. Nor will there be any forced move of territories into regions different from their mother countries (which would have proved politically difficult in the case of disputed land masses such as the Falklands).

While the report is being called “final” it has been presented for public review until October, after which it will be formally sent to ICANN’s board.

ICANN hires former ARI exec to head gTLD relations

Kevin Murphy, June 12, 2013, Domain Policy

Krista Papac, formerly chief strategy officer with AusRegistry and ARI Registry Services, has joined ICANN as gTLD registry services director.

It appears to be a newly created job title at ICANN, though it sounds a little similar to the gTLD “liaison” role vacated by Craig Schwartz a couple of years ago.

Papac, a familiar face to many in the ICANN community, has been in the industry for over a decade.

Prior to ARI, which she left to become a consultant last September, she had stints at MarkMonitor, Verisign and Iron Mountain. She joined ICANN last month.

ICANN is hiring like crazy at the moment as it simultaneously gears up for the launch of new gTLDs and executes on CEO Fadi Chehade’s ambitious drive to simultaneously professionalize and globalize the organization.

Late new gTLD objections “not unfair”

Kevin Murphy, June 10, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte has ruled that the decision to accept formal new gTLD objections sent one minute after the filing deadline “does not create unfairness”.

The decision is a blow to at least one applicant, which had tried to have an objection against it kicked out for being late.

LaHatte received a complaint from the applicant, believed to be represented by Galway Strategy Group’s Jim Prendergast, last month.

The complainant said that an objection by a competing applicant was sent at 00:01:02 UTC on March 15, one minute and three seconds after the deadline laid out in ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook.

But the dispute resolution providers hired by ICANN to manage objections decided to give a little leeway, agreeing among themselves (with ICANN’s tacit consent) to a five-minute extension.

Now LaHatte has decided — entirely reasonably in my view — that this was not unfair.

He wrote: “It is my view that a five minute window is a proportionate response and does not create unfairness for the applicants, but does provide fairness given that it is only five minutes.”

He added that at least one other objection, which was filed much later, was rejected for its tardiness.

Atallah shunted sideways in ICANN exec rejig

Kevin Murphy, June 7, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN has a new COO, after incumbent Akram Atallah was moved into a new role as president of a new Generic Domains Division.

The organization has hired Susanna Bennett to replace him. She is currently with Jazz Technologies and Jazz Semiconductor, where she is CFO and VP of human resources.

The new Generic Domains Division will “focus on generic domain operations, domain name industry engagement and web services for the community” ICANN said in a press release.

Bennett is the second person to be hired from Jazz in as many months. While it wasn’t announced, Jazz alum Allen Grogan joined the legal department last month as chief contracting counsel.

Before Jazz, Grogan worked for CoreObjects, Viacore and Vocado, three of the companies that CEO Fadi Chehade led before joining ICANN.

Atallah and Chehade recently came under fire from an anonymous ICANN staffer, claiming that they’ve been causing division among employees by hiring their friends and former co-workers.

More recipients of some reshuffling today include VP of stakeholder engagement for North America Jamie Hedlund, who is becoming a “special advisor” to Chehade.

Fellow Beckstrom-era hire Christopher Mondini is moving from VP of business engagement to VP of stakeholder engagement for North America and global business engagement.

Nora Abusitta, hired in January, will become VP of public responsibility programs. She’s currently the senior director of inter-governmental development.