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ICANN denies Whois policy “failure” as Marby issues EU warning

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN directors have denied that recently delivered Whois policy recommendations represent a “failure” of the multistakeholder model.

You’ll recall that the GNSO Council last month approved a set of controversial recommendations, put forward by the community’s EPDP working group, to create a semi-centralized system for requesting access to private Whois data called SSAD.

The proposed policy still has to be ratified by the ICANN board of directors, but it’s not on the agenda for this week’s work-from-home ICANN 69 conference.

That has not stopped there being some robust discussion, of course, with the board talking for hours about the recommendations with its various stakeholder groups.

The EPDP’s policy has been criticized not only for failing to address the needs of law enforcement and intellectual property owners, but also as a failure of the multistakeholder model itself.

One of the sharpest public criticisms came in a CircleID article by Fabricio Vayra, IP lawyer are Perkins Coie, who tore into ICANN last month for defending a system that he says will be worse than the status quo.

But ICANN director Becky Burr told registries and registrars at a joint ICANN 69 session last week: “We don’t think that the EPDP represents a failure of the multistakeholder model, we actually think it’s a success.”

“The limits on what could be done in terms of policy development were established by law, by GDPR and other data protection laws in particular,” she added.

In other words, it’s not possible for an ICANN working group to create policy that supersedes the law, and the EPDP did what it could with what it was given.

ICANN CEO Göran Marby doubled down, not only agreeing with Burr but passing blame to EU bureaucrats who so far have failed to give a straight answer on important liability issues related to the GDPR privacy regulation.

“I think the EPDP came as far as it could,” he said during the same session. “Some of the people now criticizing it are rightly disappointed, but their disappointment is channeled in the wrong direction.”

He then referred to his recent outreach to three European Commission heads, in which he pleaded for clarity on whether a more centralized Whois model, with more liability shifted away from registrars to ICANN, would be legal.

A failure to provide such clarity would be to acknowledge that the EPDP’s policy proposals are all just fine and dandy, despite what law enforcement and some governments believe, he suggested.

“If the European Union, the European Commission, member states in Europe, or the data protection authorities don’t want to do anything, they’re happy with the situation,” he told registrars and registries.

“If they don’t take actions now, or answer our questions, they’re happy with the way people or organizations get access to the Whois data… it seems that if they don’t change or do anything, they’re happy, and then were are where we are,” he said.

He reiterated similar thoughts at sessions with other stakeholders last week.

But he faced some pushback from members of the pro-privacy Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, particularly during an entertaing exchange with EPDP member Milton Mueller, who’s unhappy with how Marby has been characterizing the group’s output to the EU.

He specifically unhappy with Marby telling the commissioners: “Should the ICANN Board approve the SSAD recommendations and direct ICANN org to implement it, the community has recommended that the SSAD should become more centralized in response to increased legal clarity.”

Mueller reckons this has no basis in what the EPDP recommended and the GNSO Council approved. It is what the IP interests and governments want, however.

In response, Marby talked around the issue and seemed to characterize it as a matter of interpretation, adding that he’s only trying to provide the ICANN community with the legal clarity it needs to make decisions.

Europe’s top dogs could decide the future of Whois

Kevin Murphy, October 5, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is pleading with the European Commission for legal clarity to help solve the two-year-old fight over the future of Whois in the age of GDPR.

CEO Göran Marby has written to three commissioners to ask for a definitive opinion on whether a centralized, mostly automated Whois system would free up registries and registrars from legal liability if their customers’ data is inappropriately disclosed.

It’s a question ICANN has been asking for years, but this time it comes after the ICANN community has come up with a set of policy recommendations that would create something called SSAD, for System for Standardized Access/Disclosure.

SSAD is supported by registries, registrars and non-commercial interests, but has been broadly criticized by governments, intellectual property interests, security experts and others as being not fit for purpose.

While it would create a centralized gateway for funneling Whois queries to contracted parties, and an accreditation system for those making the queries, the decision to accept or refuse the query would still lie with registries and registrars and be largely human-powered.

It’s been described as a glorified, $9 million-a-year ticketing system that will fail to provide better access to Whois to those who say they need it (largely the IP interests).

But registries and registrars say they cannot accept a solution that offloads decision-making to a centralized third party such as ICANN, unless that third party shoulders all the legal liability for mistakes, and whether that’s possible is far from clear this early in the life of GDPR.

As Marby told the commissioners:

Legal clarity could mean the difference between ICANN having a fragmented system that routes most requests for access to non-public registration data from requestors to thousands of individual registries and registrars for a decision, on the one hand, versus ultimately being able to implement a centralized, predictable solution in which decisions about whether or not to disclose non-public registration data in most or all cases could be made consistently, predictably, in a manner that is transparent and accountable to requestors and data subjects alike.

In GDPR lingo, the question is who becomes the “controller” of the data in a centralized system. The controller is the one that could get slapped with huge fines in the event of a privacy breach.

There’s a concept of “successive controllers”, where data is passed through a chain of handlers. ICANN wants clarity on whether, should a registrar send data to an ICANN central gateway, its liability ends there, before the final disclosure decision is made.

It’s asking the European Commission to exercise its authority under the GDPR to force the European Data Protection Board to issue a blanket opinion clarifying these issues, with the expectation that SSAD as currently envisaged could evolve over time to be something more like what the IP folk want.

For ICANN, such a ruling could help quell criticism from its influential advisory bodies, notably the Governmental Advisory Committee, which have come out strongly against the SSAD proposals.

If ICANN chooses to wait for the European Commission and EDPB responses to its new request, it’s highly unlikely we’re going to see the ICANN board fully approve SSAD at its annual general meeting later this month.

Whois plan approved, but it may be a waste of money

Kevin Murphy, September 24, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN’s GNSO Council has approved a plan to overhaul Whois and sent it to the ICANN board for the royal assent, alongside a warning that it may be a huge waste of money.

All seven members of the Contracted Parties House voted in favor of the plan, created by the so-called EPDP working group, which would create a centralized System for Standardized Access/Disclosure for Whois records.

In the Non-Contracted Parties House, only the two members of the Intellectual Property Constituency and the two members of the Business Constituency voted against the headline resolution, with the remaining nine voting in favor.

This was sufficient to count as a supermajority, which was the threshold required.

But the board will be receiving the SSAD recommendations alongside a request for a consultation on “whether a further cost-benefit analysis should be conducted”:

Noting some of the questions surrounding the financial sustainability of SSAD and some of the concerns expressed within the different minority statements, the GNSO Council requests a consultation with the ICANN Board as part of the delivery of the GNSO Council Recommendations Report to the ICANN Board to discuss these issues, including whether a further cost-benefit analysis should be conducted before the ICANN Board considers all SSAD-related recommendations for adoption.

The cost of SSAD is currently estimated by ICANN loosely at $9 million to build and $8.9 million a year to run. Under the approved recommendations, it would be paid for by accreditation fees paid by end-user data requestors.

And the benefits?

Well, to listen to the IPC, BC, governments and security experts — collectively the expected customers of SSAD — the system will be a bit rubbish and maybe not even worth using.

They complain that SSAD still leaves ultimate responsibility for deciding whether to grant access to Whois records to trained humans at individual registries and registrars. They’d prefer a centralized structure, with much more automation, more closely resembling the pre-GDPR universe.

Contracted parties counter that if GDPR is going to hold them legally responsible for disclosures, they can’t risk offloading decision-making to a third party.

But this could prove a deterrent to adoption, and if fewer companies want to use SSAD that could mean less revenue to fund it which in turn could lead to even higher prices or the need for subsidies out of ICANN’s budget.

The IPC called the recommendations “an outcome that will not meet the needs of, and therefore will not be used by, stakeholders”.

It’s a tricky balancing act for ICANN, and it could further extend the runway to implementation.

The most likely first chance the ICANN board will get to vote on the recommendations would be the AGM, October 22, but if the GNSO consultation concludes another cost/benefit analysis is due, that would likely push the vote out into 2021.

There’s the additional wrinkle that three of ICANN’s four advisory committees, including the governments, have expressed their displeasure with the EPDP outcome, which is likely to add complexity and delay to the roadmap.

And the GNSO’s work on Whois is not even over yet.

Also during today’s meeting, the Council started early talks on whether to reopen the EPDP to address the issues of data accuracy, whether registrars should be obliged to distinguish between legal and natural persons, and whether it’s feasible to have a uniform system of anonymized email addresses in Whois records.

Should YOU have to pay when lawyers access your private Whois info?

Kevin Murphy, September 23, 2020, Domain Policy

The question of who should shoulder the costs of ICANN’s proposed Whois overhaul is being raised, with governments and others suggesting that the burden should fall on registrants themselves.

In separate statements to ICANN recently, the Governmental Advisory Committee and Security and Stability Advisory Committee both put forward the view that registrants, rather than the trademark lawyers behind most requests for private Whois data, should fund the system.

ICANN currently expects the so-called System for Standardized Access/Disclosure (SSAD), proposed after two years of talks in an ICANN community working group, to cost $9 million to build and another $9 million a year to operate.

The working group, known as the EPDP, has recommended in its final report that registrants “MUST NOT bear the costs for having data disclosed to third parties”.

Instead, it recommended that requestors themselves should pay for the system, probably via an annual accreditation fee.

But now the GAC and SSAC have issued minority statements calling that conclusion into question.

The GAC told ICANN (pdf):

While the GAC recognizes the appeal of not charging registrants when others wish to access their data, the GAC also notes that registrants assume the costs of domain registration services as a whole when they register a domain name.

While the SSAC said (pdf):

Data requestors should not primarily bear the costs of maintaining the system. Requestors should certainly pay the cost of getting accredited and maintaining their access to the system. But the current language of [EPDP Recommendation] 14.2 makes victims and defenders cover the costs of the system’s operation, which is unfair and is potentially dangerous for Internet security…

No previous PDP has protected registrants from having the costs associated with “core” registration services or the implementation of consensus policies being passed on to them. No previous PDP has tried to manipulate the functioning of market forces as is proposed in Recommendation 14.

SSAC suggested instead that registrars should be allowed to pass on the costs of SSAD to their customers, and/or that ICANN should subsidize the system.

Over 210 million gTLD domain names, $9 million a year would work out to less than five cents per domain, but one could argue there’s a principle at stake here.

Should registrants have to pay for the likes of Facebook (probably the biggest requestor of private Whois data) to access their private contact information?

The current proposed system would see the estimated $9 million spread out over a far smaller number of requestors, making the fee something like $450 per year.

EPDP member Milton Mueller did the math and concluded that any company willing to pay its lawyers hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight for greater Whois access in ICANN could certainly swallow a measly few hundred bucks a year.

But the minority objections from the GAC, SSAC and Intellectual Property Constituency do not focus wholly on the costs. They’re also bothered that SSAD doesn’t go nearly far enough to actually provide access to Whois data.

Under the current, temporary, post-GDPR system, registries and registrars basically use their own employees’ discretion when deciding whether to approve a Whois data request.

That wouldn’t change significantly under SSAD, but there would be a huge, multi-tiered system of accreditation and request-forwarding that’s been described as “glorified, overly complex and very expensive ticketing system”.

The GAC wants something much more automated, or for the policy to naturally allow increased automation over time. It also wants increased centralization, taking away much of the human decision-making at registrars out of the equation.

The response from the industry has basically been that if GDPR makes them legally liable for their customers’ data, then it’s the registries and registrars that should make the disclosure decisions.

The GAC has a great deal of power over ICANN, so there’s likely to be a bit of a fight about the EPDP’s outcomes and the future of SSAD.

The recommendations are due to be voted on by the GNSO Council at its meeting tomorrow, and as I’ve noted before, it could be tight.

Council chair Keith Drazek seems to be anticipating some lively debate, and he’s already warned fellow members that’s he’s not minded to approve any request for a delay on the vote, noting that the final report has been available for review for several weeks.

By convention, the Council will defer a vote on the request of any of its constituency groups, but this is sometimes exploited.

Should the Council approve the resolution approving the final report — which contains a request for further financial review of SSAD — then it will be forwarded to the ICANN board of directors for final discussion and approval.

But with the GAC on its case, with its special advisory powers, getting SSAD past the board could prove tricky.

The pricey, complex, clusterfuck plan to reopen Whois

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2020, Domain Policy

After a little more than two years, an ICANN working group has finalized the policy that could allow people to start accessing unredacted Whois records again.

Despite the turnaround time being relatively fast by ICANN standards, the Expedited Policy Development Process group has delivered what could be the most lengthy and complex set of policy recommendations I’ve seen since the policy work on new gTLDs over a decade ago.

Don’t get too excited if you’re itching to get your hands on Whois data once more. It’s a 171-page document containing over a hundred recommendations that’s bound to take ages to implement in full, if it even gets approved in the coming weeks.

I’d be surprised if it’s up and running fully before 2022 at the earliest. If and when the system does eventually come online, don’t expect to get it for free.

It’s already being slammed in multiple quarters, with one constituency saying it could result in a “multi-year-implementation resulting in a system which would effectively be a glorified, overly complex and very expensive ticketing system”.

Trademark owners are livid, saying the proposed policy completely fails to address their needs, and merely entrenches the current system of registrar discretion into formal ICANN policy.

The recommendations describe a proposed system called SSAD, for System for Standardized Access/Disclosure, which would be overseen by ICANN and enforced through its contracts with registries and registrars.

It’s a multi-tiered system involving a few primary functions, wrapped in about a thousand miles of red tape.

First and foremost, you’ve got the Central Gateway Manager. This would either be ICANN, or a company to which ICANN outsources. Either way, ICANN would be responsible for overseeing the function.

The gateway manager’s job is to act as a middleman, accepting Whois data requests from accredited users and forwarding them to registries and registrars for processing.

In order to access the gateway, you’d need to be accredited by an Accreditation Authority. Again, this might be ICANN itself or (more likely) a contractor.

The policy recommendations only envisage one such authority, but it could rely on a multitude of Identity Providers, entities that would be responsible for storing the credentials of users.

It’s possible all of these roles and functions could be bundled up in-house at ICANN, but it appears the far more likely scenario is that there will be a bunch of RFPs coming down the pike for hungry contractors later this year.

But who gets to get accredited?

Anyone with a “legitimate interest or other lawful basis”, it seems. The document is far from prescriptive or proscriptive when it comes to describing possible users.

But the recommendations do give special privileges to governments and government-affiliated entities such as law enforcement, consumer protection bodies and data privacy watchdogs.

For law enforcement agencies, the proposed policy would mandate fully automated processing at the gateway and at the registry/registrar. It sounds like cops would get pretty much instant access to all the Whois data they need.

Requests just the for city field of the record would also be fully automated, for any accredited requestor.

There would be at least three priorities of Whois request under the proposed system.

The first, “Urgent”, would be limited to situations that “pose an imminent threat to life, serious bodily injury, critical infrastructure (online and offline) or child exploitation”. Non-cops could use this method too. Contracted parties would have one business day or three calendar days to respond.

The second would be limited to ICANN-related procedures like UDRP and URS, and registrars would have a maximum of two business days to respond.

The third would encapsulate all other requests, with some priority given to fraud or malware-related requests. Response times here could be a long as 10 days.

I’m trying to keep it simple here, but a lot of the recommendations describe the aforementioned red tape surrounding each stage of the process.

Registrars and registries would be bound to service level agreements, there’d be appeals processes for rejected requests, there’d be logging, audits, reporting, methods to de-accredit users and methods for them to appeal their de-accreditation… basically a shedload of checks and balances.

And who’s going to pay for it all?

ICANN’s latest guesstimate is that SSAD will cost $9 million to build and another $8.9 million annually to operate.

It seems the main burden will be placed on the shoulders of the end-user requestors, which will certainly have to pay for accreditation (which would have to be renewed periodically) and may have to pay per-query too.

Trademark lawyers within the ICANN community are furious about this — not because they have to pay, but because SSAD functionality does “not come close to justifying the costs”.

They’d envisaged a system that would be increasingly automated as time went by, eventually enabling something pretty much like the old way of doing Whois lookups, but say the current proposals preclude that.

It’s also not impossible that the system could lead to higher fees for registrants.

The EPDP group is adamant that domain registrants should not have to pay directly when somebody queries their Whois data, and says the SSAD should be cheaper to run for registrars than the current largely manual system, but acknowledges there’s nothing ICANN can do to stop registrars raising their prices as a result of the proposed policy.

The recommendations say that ICANN should not take a profit from SSAD, but do not discount its contractors from making a fair return from their work.

Prices are, like much else described in this Final Report, still very much TBD. The EPDP working group was given a lot to accomplish in very little time, and there’s a lot of buck-passing going on.

And there’s no guarantee that the policy will even be approved in the short term, given the level of dissent from working group participants.

Before the recommendations become formal Consensus Policy — and therefore binding on all registries and registrars — they first have to be approved by the GNSO Council and then the ICANN board of directors.

The first opportunity for the GNSO Council to vote is at its meeting September 24, but it could be a very tight vote.

For an EPDP to pass, it needs a supermajority vote of the Council, which means a two-thirds majority of both “houses” — the Contracted Parties House (ie, registries and registrars) and the Non-Contracted Parties house — or a 75% approval in one house and a simple majority in the other.

The way things stand, it looks to me like the CPH will very likely vote 100% in favor of the proposal, which means that only seven out of the 13 NCPH members will have to vote in favor of the report in order for it to pass.

The NCPH is made up of six people from the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, which generally hold pro-privacy views and have already criticized the report as not going far enough to protect registrants’ data.

Six more NCPH members comprise two members each from the Intellectual Property Constituency, Business Constituency and Internet Service Providers Constituency.

The IPC and BC put their names to a joint minority statement in the Final Report saying that its recommendations:

amount to little more than affirmation of the [pre-EPDP] status quo: the elements of WHOIS data necessary to identify the owners and users of domain names are largely inaccessible to individuals and entities that serve legitimate public and private interests.

I’m chalking those four Council members down as reliable “no” votes, but they’ll need the support of the two ISP guys and the wildcard Nominating Committee appointee in order to bury this policy proposal.

If it does pass the Council, the next and final stage of approval for SSAD would be the ICANN board, probably at ICANN 69 in October.

But then ICANN would actually have to build the damn thing.

This would take many months of implementation and review, then there’d have to be multiple RFP processes to select the companies to write the software and build the infrastructure to run it, who’d then actually have to build and test it.

In the same guesstimate that put a $9 million price tag on the system, ICANN reckoned that it would take a full year for a third party to build and test SSAD. That’s not even taking registrar integration into account.

So, if you’re looking for streamlined Whois access again, you’d best think 2022 at the very earliest, if ever.

If you wish to read the EPDP working group’s Final Report, you can do so here (pdf).

UPDATE: This article originally misstated the date of the next GNSO Council meeting at which this proposal could be considered. It’s not August 20. It’s September 24, which means initial ICANN board consideration is out in October. Add another month to whatever timeline you were hoping for.

GoDaddy starts protecting American customers’ privacy

GoDaddy has today started redacting the Whois records of its US-based customers, bringing them into line with the European counterparts.

The company was one of the few registrars to differentiate its European customers from those elsewhere when it implemented the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation two years ago, primarily because it was also one of the dwindling number of registrars charging for Whois privacy services.

American privacy customers are reportedly to be offered a partial refund or the chance to upgrade to a service that also includes two-factor authentication and malware scans.

From today, Whois records for American registrants only show a registrant organization, state and country. Email addresses and phone numbers are gone.

While this is no doubt a boon to most GoDaddy customers in terms of privacy protection, it’s likely to cause frowns in those parts of the community that rely upon Whois to make the job of tracking down ne’er-do-wells easier.

As the largest registrar by a considerable margin, the likes of law enforcement, intellectual property owners and security researchers have just lost access to millions of records.

There is a contact form at the bottom of each record that can be used to get in touch with the registrant, via GoDaddy, so it should still be possible to communicate with those who want to be communicated with.

Is ICANN chickening out of Whois access role?

Kevin Murphy, May 26, 2020, Domain Policy

As talks over a centralized system for Whois access enter their eleventh hour, confusion has been sown over whether ICANN still wants to play ball.

The ICANN working group tasked with creating a “unified access model” for Whois data, currently rendered private by the GDPR privacy law, was forced last week to ask ICANN’s board of directors three blunt questions about how it sees its future role.

The group has been working for two years on a system of Whois access based around a central gateway for requests, which could be made only by those given credentials by an accreditation authority, which would also be able to revoke access rights if abused.

The proposed model as a whole has come to be known as SSAD, for System for Standardized Access/Disclosure.

The assumption has been that ICANN would act in these roles, either hands-on or by subcontracting the functions out to third parties, largely because ICANN has given every indication that it would and is arguably inventor of the concept.

But that assumption was thrown into doubt last Thursday, during a working group teleconference, when ICANN board liaison Chris Disspain worried aloud that the group may be pushing ICANN into areas beyond its remit.

Disspain said he was “increasingly uncomfortable with the stretching of ICANN’s mandate”, and that there was no guarantee that the board would approve a policy that appeared to push it outside the boundaries of its mission statement and bylaws.

“While it may be convenient and it might seem to solve the problem to say ‘Well, let ICANN do it’, I don’t think anyone should assume that ICANN will,” he said.

He stressed that he was speaking in his personal capacity rather on behalf of the board, but added that he was speaking based on his over eight years of experience on the board.

He spoke within the context of a discussion about how Whois access accreditation could be revoked in the event that the user abused their privileges, and whether an ICANN department such as Compliance should be responsible.

Several working group members expressed surprise at his remarks, with Milton Mueller of the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group later calling it “a sudden and rather suspicious departure from nearly two years of ICANN Org statements and activities”.

The confusion comes at a critical juncture for the working group, which has to wrap up its work before chair Janis Karklins quits on June 30.

Karklins wrote to the board late last week to ask:

If SSAD becomes an adopted consensus policy, would ICANN Org will perform the Accreditation Authority function?

If SSAD becomes an adopted consensus policy, would ICANN Org will perform the central Gateway function?

If SSAD becomes an adopted consensus policy, would ICANN Org enforces compliance of SSAD users and involved parties with its consensus policy?

It’s a kinda important set of questions, but there’s no guarantee ICANN will provide straight answers.

When the working group, known as the EPDP, wraps up, the policy will go to the GNSO Council for approval before it goes to the board.

Irony alert! Data protection agency complains it can’t get access to private Whois data

Kevin Murphy, May 26, 2020, Domain Policy

A European data protection authority has complained to ICANN after a registrar refused to hand over one of its customers’ private Whois records, citing the GDPR data protection regulation, according to ICANN.

Compounding the irony, the DPA wanted the data as part of its probe into an alleged GDPR violation at the domain in question.

This is the frankly hilarious scenario outlined in a letter (pdf) from ICANN boss Göran Marby to Andrea Jelinek, chair of the European Data Protection Board, last week.

Since May 2018, registrars and registries have been obliged under ICANN rules to redact all personally identifiable information from public Whois records, because of the EU’s General Data Protection regulation.

This has irked the likes of law enforcement and intellectual property owners, who have found it increasingly difficult to discover the identities of suspected bad actors such as fraudsters and cybersquatters.

Registrars are still obliged to hand over data upon request in certain circumstances, but the rules are vague, requiring a judgement call:

Registry and Registrar MUST provide reasonable access to Personal Data in Registration Data to third parties on the basis of a legitimate interests pursued by the third party, except where such interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the Registered Name Holder or data subject pursuant to Article 6(1)(f) GDPR.

While an ICANN working group has been attempting to come up with a clearer-cut set of guidelines, administered by a central body, this so-called SSAD (System for Standardized Access/Disclosure) has yet to come to fruition.

So when an unidentified European DPA recently asked a similarly unidentified non-EU registrar for the Whois data of somebody they suspected of GDPR violations, the registrar told it to get stuffed.

It told the DPA it would “not act against a domain name without any clear and unambiguous evidence for the fraudulent behavior” and said it would respond to legal requests in its own jurisdiction, according to ICANN.

The DPA complained to ICANN, and now ICANN is using that complaint to shame the EDPB into getting off the fence and providing some much-needed clarity about when registrars can declassify Whois data without breaking the law.

Marby wrote that registrars are having to apply their “subjective judgment and discretion” and will most often come down on the side of registrants in order to reduce their GDPR risk. He wrote:

ICANN org would respectfully suggest to the EDPB that a more explicit recognition of the importance of certain legitimate interests, including the relevance of public interests, combined with clearer guidelines on balancing, could address these problems.

ICANN org would respectfully suggest to the EDPB to consider issuing additional specific guidance on this topic to ensure that entities with a legitimate interest in obtaining access to non-public gTLD registration data are able to do so. Guidance would in particular be appreciated on how to balance legitimate interests in access to data with the interests of the data subject concerned

ICANN and the EDPB have been communicating about this issue for a couple of years now, with ICANN looking for some clarity on this largely untested area of law, but the EDPB’s responses to data have been pretty vague and unhelpful, almost as if it doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing either.

Will this latest example of the unintended consequences of GDPR give the Board the kick up the bum it needs to start talking in specifics? We’ll have to wait and see.

Whois privacy talks in Bizarro World as governments and trademark owners urge coronavirus delay

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2020, Domain Policy

Coronavirus may have claimed another victim at ICANN — closure on talks designed to reopen private Whois data to the likes of law enforcement and trademark owners.

In a remarkable U-turn, the Governmental Advisory Committee, which has lit a series a fires under ICANN’s feet on this issue for over a year, late last week urged that the so-called Expedited Policy Development Process on Whois should not wrap up its work in June as currently planned.

This would mean that access to Whois data, rendered largely redacted worldwide since May 2018 due to the GDPR regulation in Europe, won’t be restored to those who want it as quickly as they’ve consistently said that they want it.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not), pro-access groups including the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency sided with the GAC’s request.

In an email to the EPDP working group’s mailing list on Thursday, GAC chair Manal Ismail indicated that governments simply don’t have the capacity to deal with the issue due to the coronavirus pandemic:

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its drastic consequences on governments, organizations, private sector and individuals worldwide, I would like to express our serious concerns, as GAC leaders, that maintaining the current pace of work towards completion of Phase 2 by mid-June could jeopardize the delivery, efficacy and legitimacy of the EPDP’s policy recommendations.

While recognizing that the GAC has continually advised for swiftly completing policy development and implementing agreed policy on this critical public policy matter, we believe that given the current global health emergency, which puts many in the EPDP and the community under unprecedented stress (for example governments has been called to heightened duties for the continuity of essential public services), pressing important deliberations and decisions in such a short time frame on already strained participants would mean unacceptably sacrificing the product for the timeline.

We understand there are budget and human resources considerations involved in the completion of Phase 2 of the EPDP. However, we are all living through a global health pandemic, so we call on the EPDP Team to seriously reassess its course and expectations (be it on the duration of its calls, the turn-around time of reviews, its ultimate timeline and budget) emulating what numerous governments, global organizations, and households are doing to adapt during these challenging times across the world.

In April last year, before the EPDP group had even formally started its current phase of talks, Ismail wrote to ICANN to say the GAC expected the discussions to be more or less wrapped up by last November and that the new policy be implemented by this April.

Proponents of the access model such as Facebook have taken to suing registrars for not handing over Whois data in recent months, impressing the need for the issue to be urgently resolved.

So to now request a delay beyond June is a pretty big U-turn.

While Ismail later retracted her request for delay last Thursday, it was nevertheless discussed by the working group that same day, where the IPC, the BC and the ALAC all expressed support for the GAC’s position.

The registrars and registries, the non-commercial users and the ISPs were not supportive.

Delay might be tricky. For starters, hard-sought neutral working group chair Janis Karklins, has said he can’t continue working on the project beyond June 30, and the group has not secured ICANN funding for any further extensions to its work.

It will be up to the GNSO Council to decide whether to grant the extension, and the ICANN board to decide on funding.

The working group decided on Thursday to ask the Council for guidance on how to proceed.

What’s worrying about the request, or at least the IPC and BC’s support of it, is that coronavirus may just be being deployed as an excuse to extend talks because the IP owners don’t like the proposal currently on the table.

“The reality is we’re looking at a result that is… just not going to be sufficient from our perspective,” MPAA lawyer Frank Journoud, an IPC rep on the working group, said on its Thursday call. “We don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, but right now we’re not even going to get to good.”

The current state of play with the working group is that it published its initial report (pdf) for public comment in February.

The group is recommending something called SSAD, for Standardized System for Access and Disclosure, in which a central gateway provider, possibly ICANN itself, would be responsible for granting Whois access credentials and fielding requests to the relevant registries and registries.

The almost 70 comments submitted before the March 23 deadline have been published in an unreadable, eye-fucking Google spreadsheet upon which transparency-loving ICANN may as well have hung a “Beware of the Leopard” sign. The staff summary of the comments is currently nine days late.

Crunch time, again, for Whois access policy

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2019, Domain Policy

Talks seeking to craft a new policy for allowing access to private Whois data have hit another nodal point, with the community now pressuring the ICANN board of directors for action.

The Whois working group has more or less decided that a centralized model for data access, with ICANN perhaps acting as a clearinghouse, is the best way forward, but it needs to know whether ICANN is prepared to take on this role and all the potential liabilities that come with it.

Acronym time! The group is known as the Whois EPDP WG (for Expedited Policy Development Process Working Group) and it’s come up with a rough Whois access framework it’s decided to call the Standardized System for Access and Disclosure (SSAD).

Its goal is to figure out a way to minimize the harms that Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation allegedly caused to law enforcement, IP owners, security researchers and others by hiding basically all gTLD registration data by default.

The SSAD, which is intended to be as automated as possible, is the working group’s proposed way of handling this.

The “hamburger model” the EPDP has come up with sees registries/registrars and data requestors as the top and bottom of the sandwich (or vice versa) with some yet-to-be-decided organizational patty filling acting as an interface between the two.

The patty would handle access control for the data requests and be responsible for credentialing requestors. It could either be ICANN acting alone, or ICANN coordinating several different interface bodies (the likes of WIPO have been suggested).

Should the burger be made only of mashed-up cow eyelids, or should it incorporate the eyelids of other species too? That’s now the question that ICANN’s board is essentially being posed.

Since this “phase two” work kicked off, it’s taken about five months, 24 two-hour teleconferences, and a three-day face-to-face meeting to get to this still pretty raw, uncooked state.

The problem the working group is facing now is that everyone wants ICANN to play a hands-on role in running a centralized SSAD system, but it has little idea just how much ICANN is prepared to get involved.

The cost of running such a system aside, legislation such as GDPR allows for pretty hefty fines in cases of privacy breaches, so there’s potentially a big liability ask of notoriously risk-averse ICANN.

So the WG has written to ICANN’s board of directors in an attempt to get a firm answer one way or the other.

If the board decided ICANN should steer clear, the WG may have to go back more or less to square one and focus on adapting the current Whois model, which is distributed among registrars and registries, for the post-GDPR world.

How much risk and responsibility ICANN is willing to absorb could also dictate which specific SSAD models the WG pursues in future.

There’s also a view that, with no clarity from ICANN, the chance of the WG reaching consensus is unlikely.

This will be a hot topic at ICANN 66 in Montreal next month.

Expect the Governmental Advisory Committee, which had asked for “considerable and demonstrable progress, if not completion” of the access model by Montreal, to be disappointed.