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Did Whois blow the lid off a Labour leadership coup, or is this just pig-fuckery?

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2017, Gossip

A British Member of Parliament has been forced to deny he was behind the registration of several domain names promoting him as a future leader of the Labour party.

Clive Lewis, until recently a member of the shadow cabinet, told the Guardian yesterday that he did not register the batch of domains, which included cliveforleader.org.uk, cliveforlabour.org.uk and their matching .org, .uk and .co.uk domains.

“None of this is true: I haven’t done this,” he told the paper, following a Huffington Post article revealing the names had been registered June 29 last year, just a couple of days after he was appointed shadow defence secretary.

Lewis resigned from the shadow cabinet three weeks ago after refusing to vote in favor of triggering the Article 50 process that will take the UK out of the European Union.

The Labour Party has been dogged by stories about potential leadership challenges ever since Jeremy Corbyn — popular among grassroots party members, unpopular with voters — took over.

Questions about Corbyn’s leadership reemerged last week after a disastrous by-election defeat for the party.

The domains were taken as an indication that Lewis had been plotting a coup for many months, which he has denied.

The Whois records do not support a conclusion one way or another.

Under Nominet rules, individuals are allowed to keep their phone number, postal and email addresses out of Whois if the domains are to be used for non-commercial purposes, a right the registrant of the names in question chose to exercise.

Public Whois records show the .uk names registered to “Clive Lewis”, but contain no contact information.

They do contain the intriguing statement “Nominet was able to match the registrant’s name and address against a 3rd party data source on 29-Jun-2016”, a standard notice under Nominet’s Whois validation program.

But Nominet does not validate the identity of registrants, nor does it attempt to link the registrant’s name to their purported address.

The statement in the Whois records translates merely that Nominet was able to discover that a person called Clive Lewis exists somewhere in the world, and that the postal address given is a real address.

The .org and .com domains, registered the same day by the same registrar, use a Whois privacy service and contain no information about the registrant whatsoever.

Lewis himself suspects the batch of names may have been registered by a political opponent in order to force him to deny that he registered them, noting that fellow MP Lisa Nandy had a similar experience last July.

His initial statement to HuffPo, on which he reportedly declined to elaborate, was:

A lesson from LBJ [US President Lyndon B Johnson] in how to smash an opponent. Legend has it that LBJ, in one of his early congressional campaigns, told one of his aides to spread the story that Johnson’s opponent f*cked pigs. The aide responded: ‘Christ, Lyndon, we can’t call the guy a pigf*cker. It isn’t true.’ To which LBJ supposedly replied: ‘Of course it ain’t true, but I want to make the son-of-a-bitch deny it.’

Since then, along with his denial to the Guardian, he’s told his local Norwich newspaper that he’s tasked his lawyers with finding out who registered the names.

“I have instructed a solicitor to go away and look at this. They can try and make sure we find the identity, the IP address and the payment details,” he told the Eastern Daily Press.

Registrars off the hook for silly ICANN transfer policy

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2016, Domain Registrars

Domain name registrars have been assured that ICANN Compliance will not pursue them for failing to implement the new Transfer Policy on privacy-protected names.

As we reported late November, the new policy requires registrars to send out “change of registrant” confirmation emails whenever certain fields in the Whois are changed, regardless of whether the registrant has actually changed.

The GNSO Council pointed out to ICANN a number of unforeseen flaws in the policy, saying that vulnerable registrants privacy could be at risk in certain edge cases.

They also pointed out that the confirmation emails could be triggered, with not action by the registrant, when privacy services automatically cycle proxy email addresses in the Whois.

This appears to have already happened with at least one registrar that wasn’t paying attention.

But ICANN chair Steve Crocker told the GNSO Council chair last week that ICANN staff have been instructed to ignore violations of the new policy, which came into effect December 1, in cases involving privacy-protected domains (pdf).

It’s a temporary measure until the ICANN board decides whether or not to defer the issue to the GNSO working group currently looking at policies specifically for privacy and proxy services.

Privacy risk under new domain transfer policy

Kevin Murphy, November 30, 2016, Domain Registrars

ICANN’s new domain Transfer Policy, which comes into effect tomorrow, creates risks for users of privacy/proxy services, registrars and others haved warned.

The policy could lead to private registrants having their contact information published in the public Whois for 60 days, the GNSO Council expects to formally tell ICANN this week.

“This could threaten privacy for at-risk registrants without clear benefit,” the Council says in a draft letter to the ICANN board.

The revised Transfer Policy was designed to help prevent domain hijacking.

The main change is that whenever there’s a “change of registrant”, the gaining and losing registrants both have to respond to confirmation emails before the change is processed.

However, “change of registrant” is defined in such a way that the confirmation emails would be triggered even if the registrant has not changed.

For example, if you change your last name in your Whois records due to marriage or divorce, or if you change email addresses, that counts as a change of registrant.

It now turns out that ICANN considers turning a privacy service on or off as a change of registrant, even though that only affects the public Whois data and not the underlying customer data held by the registrar.

The GNSO Council’s draft letter states:

ICANN has advised that any change to the public whois records is considered a change of registrant that is subject to the process defined through IRTP-C. Thus, turning a P/P service on or off is, from ICANN’s view, a change of registrant. It requires the CoR [change of registrant] process to be followed and more importantly could result in a registrant exposing his/her information in the public whois for 60 days. This could threaten privacy for at-risk registrants without clear benefit.

My understanding is that the exposure risk outlined here would only be to registrants who attempt to turn on privacy at their registrar then for whatever reason ignore, do not see or do not understand the subsequent confirmation emails.

Depending on implementation, it could lead to customers paying for a privacy service and not actually receiving privacy.

On the other side of the coin, it’s possible that an actual change in registrant might not trigger the CoR process if both gaining and losing registrants both use the same privacy service and therefore have identical Whois records.

The Council letter also warns about a possible increase in spam due to the changes:

many P/P services regularly generate new email addresses for domains in an effort to reduce spam. This procedure would no longer be possible, and registrants may be subject to unwanted messaging. Implementing the CoR for email changes that some providers do as often as every 3-5 days is not feasible.

ICANN has been aware of these issues for months. Its suggested solution is for registrars to make themselves the “Designated Agent” — a middleman permitted to authorize transfers — for all of their customers.

As we reported earlier this week, many large registrars are already doing this.

But registrars and the GNSO Council want ICANN to consider reinterpreting the new policy to exclude privacy/proxy services until a more formal GNSO policy can be created.

While the Policy Development Process that created the revised transfer rules wound up earlier this year, a separate PDP devoted to creating rules of privacy/proxy services is still active.

The Council suggests that this working group, known as PPSAI, could assume the responsibility of clearing up the mess.

In the meantime, registrars are rather keen that they will not get hit with breach notices by ICANN Compliance for failing to properly implement to what seems to be a complex policy.

Pirates lose privacy rights under new ICANN rules

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2016, Domain Registrars

People operating piracy web sites would have a harder time keeping their personal information private under new ICANN rules.

ICANN’s GNSO Council last night approved a set of recommendations that lay down the rules of engagement for when trademark and copyright owners try to unmask Whois privacy users.

Among other things, the new rules would make it clear that privacy services are not permitted to reject requests to reveal a domain’s true owner just because the IP-based request relates to the content of a web site rather than just its domain name.

The recommendations also contain safeguards that would allow registrants to retain their privacy if, for example, their safety would be at risk if their identities were revealed.

The 93-page document (pdf) approved unanimously by the Council carries a “Illustrative Disclosure Framework” appendix that lays out the procedures in some depth.

The framework only covers requests from IP owners to proxy/privacy services. The GNSO was unable to come up with a similar framework for dealing with, for example, requests from law enforcement agencies.

It states flatly:

Disclosure [of the registrant’s true Whois details] cannot be refused solely for lack of any of the following: (i) a court order; (ii) a subpoena; (iii) a pending civil action; or (iv) a UDRP or URS proceeding; nor can refusal to disclose be solely based on the fact that the Request is founded on alleged intellectual property infringement in content on a website associated with the domain name.

This fairly explicitly prevents privacy services (which in most cases are registrars) using the “we don’t regulate content” argument to shoot down disclosure requests from IP owners.

Some registrars were not happy about this paragraph in early drafts, yet it remains.

Count that as a win for the IP lobby.

However, the new recommendations spend a lot more time giving IP owners a quite strict set of guidelines for how to file such requests in the first place.

If they persistently spam the registrar with automated disclosure requests, the registrar is free to ignore them. They can even share details of spammy IP owners with other registrars.

The registrar is also free to ignore requests that, for example, don’t give the exact or representative URL of an alleged copyright infringement, or if the requester has not first attempted to contact the registrant via an email relay service, should one be in place.

The registrant also gets a 15-day warning that somebody has requested their private details, during which, if they value their privacy more than their web site, they’re able to relinquish their domain and remain anonymous.

If the registrant instead uses that time to provide a good reason why they’re not infringing the requester’s rights, and the privacy service agrees, the request can also be denied.

The guidelines would make it easier for privacy service operators to understand what their obligations are. By formalizing the request format, it should make it easier to separate legit requests from the spurious requests.

They’re even allowed to charge IP owners a nominal fee to streamline the processing of their requests.

While these recommendations have been approved by the GNSO Council, they need to be approved by the ICANN board before becoming the law of the ‘net.

They also need to pass through an implementation process (conducted by ICANN staff and GNSO members) that turns the recommendations into written procedures and contracts which, due to their complexity, I have a hunch will take some time.

The idea is that the rules will form part of an accreditation program for privacy/proxy services, administered by ICANN.

Registrars would only be able to use P/P services that agree to follow these rules and that have been accredited by ICANN.

It seems to me that the new rules may be quite effective at cracking down on rogue, “bulletproof” registrars that automatically dismiss piracy-based disclosure requests by saying they’re not qualified to adjudicate copyright disputes.

ICANN confirms domain privacy is for all

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2016, Domain Policy

Commercial entities will not be excluded from buying domain privacy services, ICANN’s GNSO Council has confirmed.

The Council last night voted unanimously to approve a set of recommendations that would make it compulsory for privacy and proxy services to be accredited by ICANN for the first time.

The recommendations govern among other things how privacy services are expected to behave when they receive notices of trademark or copyright infringement.

But missing is a proposal that would have prevented the use of privacy for “transactional” web sites, something which caused a great deal of controversy last year.

The newly adopted recommendations clearly state that nobody is to be excluded from privacy on these grounds.

The Council voted to adopt the final, 93-page report of the Privacy and Proxy Services Accreditation Issues (pdf) working group, which states:

Fundamentally, P/P services should remain available to registrants irrespective of their status as commercial or non-commercial organizations or as individuals. Further, P/P registrations should not be limited to private individuals who use their domains for non-commercial purposes.

The minority view that web sites that process financial transactions should not be able to use privacy came from intellectual property, anti-abuse and law enforcement community members.

However, opponents said it would infringe the privacy rights of home business owners, bloggers, political activists and others.

It could even lead to vicious “doxing”-related crimes, such as “swatting”, where idiots call in fake violent crime reports against rivals’ home addresses, some said.

It also turned out, as we revealed last November, that 55% of US presidential candidates operate transactional web sites that use privacy on their domains.

Two separate registrar initiatives, one backed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, started letter-writing campaigns that resulted in over 20,000 comments being received on the the PPSAI’s initial report last July.

Those comments are acknowledged in the PPSAI final report that the GNSO Council just approved.

The adopted recommendations (which I’ll get into in a separate article) still have to be approved by the ICANN board of directors and have to undergo an implementation process that puts the rather broad policies into concrete processes and procedures.