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No, I don’t get what’s going on with GDPR either

Kevin Murphy, May 16, 2018, Domain Policy

GDPR comes into effect next week, changing the Whois privacy landscape forever, and like many others I still haven’t got a clue what’s going on.

ICANN’s still muddling through a temporary Whois spec that it hopes will shield itself and the industry from fines, special interests are still lobbying for special privileges after May 25, EU privacy regulators are still resisting ICANN’s begging expeditions, and registries and registrars are implementing their own independent solutions.

So what will Whois look like from next Friday? It’s all very confusing.

But here’s what my rotting, misfiring, middle-aged brain has managed to process over the last several days.

1. Not even the ICANN board agrees on the best way forward

For the best part of 2018, ICANN has been working on a temporary replacement Whois specification that it could crowbar into its contracts in order to enforce uniformity across the gTLD space and avoid “fragmentation”, which is seen as a horrific prospect for reasons I’ve never fully understood (Whois has always been fragmented).

The spec has been based on legal advice, community and industry input, and slim guidance from the Article 29 Working Party (the group comprising all EU data protection authorities or DPAs).

ICANN finally published a draft (pdf) of the spec late last Friday, May 11.

That document states… actually, forget it. By the time the weekend was over it and I had gotten my head around it, it had already been replaced by another one.

Suffice it to say that it was fairly vague on certain counts — crucially, what “legitimate purposes” for accessing Whois records might be.

The May 14 version came after the ICANN board of directors spent 16 hours or so during its Vancouver retreat apparently arguing quite vigorously about what the spec should contain.

The result is a document that provides a bit more clarity about that it hopes to achieve, and gets a bit more granular on who should be allowed access to private data.

Importantly, between May 11 and May 14, the document started to tile the scales a little away from the privacy rights of registrants and towards towards the data access rights of those with the aforementioned legitimate purposes for accessing it.

One thing the board could agree on was that even after working all weekend on the spec, it was still not ready to vote to formally adopt it as a Temporary Policy, which would become binding on all registries and registrars.

It now plans to vote on the Temporary Policy tomorrow, May 17, after basically sleeping on it and considering the last-minute yowls and cries for help from the variously impacted parts of the community.

I’ll report on the details of the policy after it gets the nod.

2. ICANN seems to have grown a pair

Tonally, ICANN’s position seems to have shifted over the weekend, perhaps reflecting an increasingly defiant, confident ICANN.

Its weekend resolution asserts:

the global public interest is served by the implementation of a unified policy governing aspects of the gTLD Registration Data when the GDPR goes into full effect.

For ICANN to state baldly, in a Resolved clause, that something is in the “global public interest” is notable, given what a slippery topic that has been in the past.

New language in the May 14 spec (pdf) also states, as part of its justification for continuing to mandate Whois as a tool for non-technical purposes: “While ICANN’s role is narrow, it is not limited to technical stability.”

The board also reaffirmed that it’s going to reject Governmental Advisory Committee advice, which pressured ICANN to keep Whois as close to its current state as possible, and kick off a so-called “Bylaws consultation” to see if there’s any way to compromise.

I may be reading too much into all this, but it seems to me that having spent the last year coming across as a borderline incompetent johnny-come-lately to the GDPR conversation, ICANN’s becoming more confident about its role.

3. But it’s still asking DPAs for a moratorium, kinda

When ICANN asked the Article 29 Working Party for a “moratorium” on GDPR enforcement, to give itself and the industry some breathing space to catch up on its compliance initiatives, it was told no such thing was legally possible.

Not to be deterred, ICANN has fired back with a long list of questions (pdf) asking for assurances that DPAs will not start fining registrars willy-nilly after the May 25 deadline.

Sure, there may be no such thing as a moratorium, ICANN acknowledges, but can the DPAs at least say that they will take into account the progress ICANN and the industry is making towards compliance when they consider their responses to any regulatory complaints they might receive?

The French DPA, the Commission Nationale de L’informatique & Libertés, has already said it does not plan to fine companies immediately after May 25, so does that go for the other DPAs too? ICANN wants to know!

It’s basically another way of asking for a moratorium, but one based on aw-shucks reasonableness and an acknowledgement that Whois is a tricky edge case that probably wasn’t even considered when GDPR was being developed.

4. No accreditation model, yet

There’s no reference in the new spec to an accreditation model that would give restricted, tiered access to private Whois data to the likes of security researchers and IP lawyers.

The board’s weekend resolution gives a nod to ongoing discussions, led by the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency (and reluctantly lurked on by other community members), about creating such a model:

The Board is aware that some parts of the ICANN community has begun work to define an Accreditation Model for access to personal data in Registration Data. The Board encourages the community to continue this work, taking into account any advice and guidance that Article 29 Working Party or European Data Protection Board might provide on the topic.

But there doesn’t appear to be any danger of this model making it into the Temporary Policy tomorrow, something that would have been roundly rejected by contracted parties.

While these talks are being given resource support by ICANN (in terms of mailing lists and teleconferencing), they’re not part of any formal policy development process and nobody’s under any obligation to stick to whatever model gets produced.

The latest update to the accreditation model spec, version 1.5, was released last Thursday.

It’s becoming a bit of a monster of a document — at 46 pages it’s 10 pages longer than the ICANN temporary spec — and would create a hugely convoluted system in which people wanting Whois access would have to provide photo ID and other credentials then pay an annual fee to a new agency set up to police access rights.

More on that in a later piece.

5. Whois is literally dead

The key technical change in the temporary Whois spec is that it’s not actually Whois at all.

Whois is not just the name given to the databases, remember, it’s also an aging technical standard for how queries and responses are passed over the internet.

Instead, ICANN is going to mandate a switch to RDAP, the much newer Registration Data Access Protocol.

RDAP makes Whois output more machine-readable and, crucially, it has access control baked in, enabling the kind of tiered access system that now seems inevitable.

ICANN’s new temporary spec would see an RDAP profile created by ICANN and the community by the end of July. The industry would then have 135 days — likely a late December deadline — to implement it.

Problem is, with a few exceptions, RDAP is brand-new tech to most registries and registrars.

We’re looking at a steep learning curve for many, no doubt.

6. It’s all a bit of a clusterfuck

The situation as it stands appears to be this:

ICANN is going to approve a new Whois policy tomorrow that will become binding upon a few thousand contracted parties just one week later.

While registries and registrars have of course had a year or so’s notice that GDPR is coming and will affect them, and I doubt ICANN Compliance will be complete assholes about enforcement in the near term, a week’s implementation time on a new policy is laughably, impossibly short.

For non-contracted parties, a fragmented Whois seems almost inevitable in the short term after May 25. Those of us who use Whois records will have to wait quite a bit longer before anything close to the current system becomes available.

ICANN flips off governments over Whois privacy

Kevin Murphy, May 8, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN has formally extended its middle finger to its Governmental Advisory Committee for only the third time, telling the GAC that it cannot comply with its advice on Whois privacy.

It’s triggered a clause in its bylaws used to force both parties to the table for urgent talks, first used when ICANN clashed with the GAC on approving .xxx back in 2010.

The ICANN board of directors has decided that it cannot accept nine of the 10 bulleted items of formal advice on compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation that the GAC provided after its meetings in Puerto Rico in March.

Among that advice is a direction that public Whois records should continue to contain the email address of the registrant after GDPR goes into effect May 25, and that parties with a “legitimate purpose” in Whois data should continue to get access.

Of the 10 pieces of advice, ICANN proposes kicking eight of them down the road to be dealt with at a later date.

It’s given the GAC a face-saving way to back away from these items by clarifying that they refer not to the “interim” Whois model likely to come into effect at the GDPR deadline, but to the “ultimate” model that could come into effect a year later after the ICANN community’s got its shit together.

Attempting to retcon GAC advice is not unusual when ICANN disagrees with its governments, but this time at least it’s being up-front about it.

ICANN chair Cherine Chalaby told GAC chair Manal Ismail:

Reaching a common understanding of the GAC’s advice in relation to the Interim Model (May 25) versus the Ultimate Model would greatly assist the Board’s deliberations on the GAC’s advice.

Of the remaining two items of advice, ICANN agrees with one and proposes immediate talks on the other.

One item, concerning the deployment of a Temporary Policy to enforce a uniform Whois on an emergency basis, ICANN says it can accept immediately. Indeed, the Temporary Policy route we first reported on a month ago now appears to be a done deal.

ICANN has asked the GAC for a teleconference this week to discuss the remaining item, which is:

Ensure continued access to the WHOIS, including non-public data, for users with a legitimate purpose, until the time when the interim WHOIS model is fully operational, on a mandatory basis for all contracted parties;

Basically, the GAC is trying to prevent the juicier bits of Whois from going dark for everyone, including the likes of law enforcement and trademark lawyers, two weeks from now.

The problem here is that while ICANN has tacit agreement from European data protection authorities that a tiered-access, accreditation-based model is probably a good idea, no such system currently exists and until very recently it’s not been something in which ICANN has invested a lot of focus.

A hundred or so members of the ICANN community, led by IP lawyers who won’t take no for an answer, are currently working off-the-books on an interim accreditation model that could feasibly be used, but it is still subject to substantial debate.

In any event, it would be basically impossible for any agreed-upon accreditation solution to be implemented across the industry before May 25.

So ICANN has invoked its bylaws fuck-you powers for only the third time in its history.

The first time was when the GAC opposed .xxx for reasons lost in the mists of time back in 2010. The second was in 2014 when the GAC overstepped its powers and told ICANN to ignore the rest of the community on the issue of Red Cross related domains.

The board resolved at a meeting last Thursday:

the Board has determined that it may take an action that is not consistent or may not be consistent with the GAC’s advice in the San Juan Communiqué concerning the GDPR and ICANN’s proposed Interim GDPR Compliance Model, and hereby initiates the required Board-GAC Bylaws Consultation Process required in such an event. The Board will provide written notice to the GAC to initiate the process as required by the Bylaws Consultation Process.

Chalaby asked Ismail (pdf) for a call this week. I don’t know if that call has yet taken place, but given the short notice I expect it has not.

For the record, here’s the GAC’s GDPR advice from its Puerto Rico communique (pdf).

the GAC advises the ICANN Board to instruct the ICANN Organization to:

i. Ensure that the proposed interim model maintains current WHOIS requirements to the fullest extent possible;

ii. Provide a detailed rationale for the choices made in the interim model, explaining their necessity and proportionality in relation to the legitimate purposes identified;

iii. In particular, reconsider the proposal to hide the registrant email address as this may not be proportionate in view of the significant negative impact on law enforcement, cybersecurity and rights protection;

iv. Distinguish between legal and natural persons, allowing for public access to WHOIS data of legal entities, which are not in the remit of the GDPR;

v. Ensure continued access to the WHOIS, including non-public data, for users with a legitimate purpose, until the time when the interim WHOIS model is fully operational, on a mandatory basis for all contracted parties;

vi. Ensure that limitations in terms of query volume envisaged under an accreditation program balance realistic investigatory crossreferencing needs; and

vii. Ensure confidentiality of WHOIS queries by law enforcement agencies.

b. the GAC advises the ICANN Board to instruct the ICANN Organization to:

i. Complete the interim model as swiftly as possible, taking into account the advice above. Once the model is finalized, the GAC will complement ICANN’s outreach to the Article 29 Working Party, inviting them to provide their views;

ii. Consider the use of Temporary Policies and/or Special Amendments to ICANN’s standard Registry and Registrar contracts to mandate implementation of an interim model and a temporary access mechanism; and

iii. Assist in informing other national governments not represented in the GAC of the opportunity for individual governments, if they wish to do so, to provide information to ICANN on governmental users to ensure continued access to WHOIS.

Muslim world still thinks .islam isn’t kosher

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Policy

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has repeated its objection to the gTLDs .islam and .halal ever seeing the light of day.

OIC Secretary General Yousef Al-Othaimeen wrote to ICANN earlier this month to declare that its position on the two controversial applications has not changed since it initially objected to them in 2013.

The OIC comprises the foreign ministers from 57 majority-Muslim countries and these ministers recently voted unanimously to re-adopt the 2013 objection, Al-Othaimeen said (pdf).

The group “maintain the position that the new gTLDs with Islamic identity are extremely sensitive in nature as they concern the entire Muslim nature” he wrote.

He reiterated “official opposition of the OIC Member states towards the probable authorization that might allow the use of these gTLDs .islam and .halal by any entity.”

This puts ICANN between a rock an a hard place.

The applicant for both strings, Turkish outfit Asia-Green IT Systems (AGIT), won an Independent Review Process case against ICANN last November.

The IRP panel ruled that ICANN broke its own bylaws when it placed .islam and .halal into permanent limbo — an “On Hold” status pending withdrawal of the applications or OIC approval — in 2014.

ICANN’s board accepted the ruling and bounced the decision on whether to finally approve or reject the bids to its Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, which is currently mulling over the problem.

Technically, it’s “non-consensus Governmental Advisory Committee advice”, which means the board has some wriggle room to simply accept the advice and reject the applications.

But AGIT’s lawyer disagrees, recently telling ICANN (pdf) its options are to approve the bids or facilitate dialogue towards their approval, rather like ICANN is doing with .amazon right now.

Is ICANN over-reacting to Whois privacy law?

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2018, Domain Policy

Is ICANN pushing the domain industry to over-comply with the European Union’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation privacy law?

Governments and plenty of intellectual property and business lobbyists think so.

After days of criticism from unhappy IP lawyers, ICANN’s public meeting in Puerto Rico last week was capped with a withering critique of the organization’s proposed plan for the industry to become GDPR compliant as pertains Whois.

The Governmental Advisory Committee, in unusually granular terms, picked apart the plan in its usual formal, end-of-meeting advice bomb, which focused on making sure law enforcement and IP owners continue to get unfettered Whois access after GDPR kicks in in May.

Key among the GAC’s recommendations (pdf) is that the post-GDPR public Whois system should continue to publish the email address of each domain registrant.

Under ICANN’s plan — now known as the “Cookbook” — that field would be obscured and replaced with a contact form or anonymized email address.

The GAC advised ICANN to “reconsider the proposal to hide the registrant email address as this may not be proportionate in view of the significant negative impact on law enforcement, cybersecurity and rights protection;”.

But its rationale for the advice is a little wacky, suggesting that email addresses under some unspecified circumstances may not contain “personal data”:

publication of the registrant’s email address should be considered in light of the important role of this data element in the pursuit of a number of legitimate purposes and the possibility for registrants to provide an email address that does not contain personal data.

That’s kinda like saying your mailing address and phone number aren’t personal data, in my view. Makes no sense.

The GAC advice will have won the committee friends in the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency, which throughout ICANN 61 had been pressuring ICANN to check whether removing email addresses from public Whois was strictly necessary.

ICANN is currently acting as a non-exclusive middleman between community members and the 20-odd Data Protection Authorities — which will be largely responsible for enforcing GDPR — in the EU.

It’s running compliance proposals it compiles from community input past the DPAs in the hope of a firm nod, or just some crumbs of guidance.

But the BC and IPC have been critical that ICANN is only submitting a single, rather Draconian proposal — one which would eschew email addresses from the public Whois — to the DPAs.

In a March 13 session, BC member Steve DelBianco pressed ICANN CEO Goran Marby and other executives and directors repeatedly on this point.

“If they [the DPAs] respond ‘Yes, that’s sufficient,’ we won’t know whether it was necessary,” DelBianco said, worried that the Cookbook guts Whois more than is required.

ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey conceded that the Cookbook given to the DPAs only contains one proposal, but said that it also outlines the “competing views” in the ICANN community on publishing email addresses and asks for guidance.

But email addresses are not the only beef the GAC/IPC/BC have with the ICANN proposal.

On Thursday, the GAC also advised that legal entities that are not “natural persons” should continue to have their full information published in the public Whois, on the grounds that GDPR only applies to people, not organizations.

That’s contrary to ICANN’s proposal, which for pragmatic reasons makes no distinction between people and companies.

There’s also the question of whether the new regime of Whois privacy should apply to all registrants, or just those based in the European Economic Area.

ICANN plans to give contracted parties the option to make it apply in blanket fashion worldwide, but some say that’s overkill.

Downtime for Whois?

While there’s bickering about which fields should be made private under the new regime, there doesn’t seem to be any serious resistance to the notion that, after May, Whois will become a two-tier system with a severely depleted public service and a firewalled, full-fat version for law enforcement and whichever other “legitimate users” can get their feet in the door.

The problem here is that while ICANN envisions an accreditation program for these legitimate users — think trademark lawyers, security researchers, etc — it has made little progress towards actually creating one.

In other words, Whois could go dark for everyone just two months from now, at least until the accreditation program is put in place.

The GAC doesn’t like that prospect.

It said in its advice that ICANN should: “Ensure continued access to the WHOIS, including non-public data, for users with a legitimate purpose, until the time when the interim WHOIS model is fully operational, on a mandatory basis for all contracted parties”.

But ICANN executives said in a session on Thursday that the org plans to ask the DPAs for a deferral of enforcement of GDPR over Whois until the domain industry has had time to come into compliance while continuing to grant access to full Whois to police and special interests.

December appears to be the favored date for this proposed implementation deadline, but ICANN is looking for feedback on its timetable by this coming Friday, March 23.

But the IPC/BC faction are not stting on their hands.

Halfway through ICANN 61 they expressed support for a draft accreditation model penned by consultant Fred Felman, formerly of brand protection registrar MarkMonitor.

The model, nicknamed “Cannoli” (pdf) for some reason, unsurprisingly would give full Whois access to anyone with enough money to afford a trademark registration, and those acting on behalf of trademark owners.

Eligible accreditees would also include security researchers and internet safety organizations with the appropriate credentials.

Once approved, accredited Whois users would have unlimited access to Whois records for defined purposes such as trademark enforcement or domain transfers. All of their queries would be logged and randomly audited, and they could lose accreditation if found to be acting outside of their legitimate purpose.

But Cannoli felt some resistance from ICANN brass, some of whom pointed out that it had been drafted by just one part of the community

“If the community — the whole community — comes up with an accreditation model we would be proud to put that before the DPAs,” Marby said during Thursday’s public forum in Puerto Rico.

It’s a somewhat ironic position, given that ICANN was just a few weeks ago prepared to hand over responsibility for creating the first stage of the accreditation program — covering law enforcement — wholesale to the GAC.

The GAC’s response to that request?

It’s not interested. Its ICANN 61 communique said the GAC “does not envision an operational role in designing and implementing the proposed accreditation programs”.

Amazon’s .amazon gTLD may not be dead just yet

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2018, Domain Policy

South American governments are discussing whether to reverse their collective objection to Amazon’s .amazon gTLD bid.

A meeting of the Governmental Advisory Committee at ICANN 61 in Puerto Rico yesterday heard that an analysis of Amazon’s proposal to protect sensitive names if it gets .amazon will be passed to governments for approval no later than mid-April.

Brazil’s GAC rep said that a working group of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization is currently carrying out this analysis.

Amazon has offered the eight ACTO countries commitments including the protection of such as “rainforest.amazon” and actively supporting any future government-endorsed bids for .amazonas.

Its offer was apparently sweetened in some unspecified way recently, judging by Brazil’s comments.

ACTO countries, largely Brazil and Peru, currently object to .amazon on the grounds that it’s a clash with the English version of the name for the massive South American rain forest, river and basin region, known locally as Amazonas.

There’s no way to read the tea leaves on which way the governments will lean on Amazon’s latest proposal, and Peru’s GAC rep warned against reading too much into the fact that it’s being considered by the ACTO countries.

“I would like to stress the fact that we are not negotiating right now,” she told the GAC meeting. “We are simply analyzing a proposal… The word ‘progress’ by no means should be interpreted as favorable opinion towards the proposal, or a negative opinion. We are simply analyzing the proposal.”

ICANN’s board of directors has formally asked the GAC to give it more information about its original objection to .amazon, which basically killed off the application a few years ago, by the end of ICANN 61.

Currently, the GAC seems to be planning to say it has nothing to offer, though it may possibly highlight the existence of the ACTO talks, in its formal advice later this week.