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Afilias scraps plan to scrap Whois

Kevin Murphy, April 5, 2018, Domain Policy

Afilias has “temporarily suspended” its plan to migrate its TLDs to an essentially thin Whois model.

In what appears to be an effort to roll back some GDPR-related gun-jumping, the registry said it will instead wait and see how ICANN’s efforts to consult with European data protection authorities play out.

Afilias had told its registrars earlier this week that its public Whois output from May 25 will be devoid of any contact information for the registrant, as reported by DNW.

It had said that it would continue to work with law enforcement on access to Whois records, but said that others (such as trademark owners) would not have access until ICANN comes up with an accreditation program.

It was the first major gTLD registry to announce its GDPR plans, but it evidently received push-back.

The affected TLDs were to be: .info, .mobi, .pro, .poker, .pink, .black, .red, .blue, .kim, .shiksha, .promo, .lgbt, .ski, .bio, .green, .lotto, .pet, .bet, .vote, .voto, .archi, .organic and .llc.

Many more client gTLDs would have been able to opt-in to the same scaled-back system.

But the company told registrars today that it wanted to correct “mis-characterizations” of that message and wanted to “clarify that Afilias is not ‘going it alone'”.

Rather, it’s going to hang back until ICANN gets guidance from the EU’s DPAs.

“Importantly, we expect that ICANN’s request for guidance from the data protection authorities will yield helpful input that, in conjunction with the best thinking of the community, will enable a workable solution to emerge,” the Afilias message said.

The company said in a statement sent to DI tonight:

Afilias today announced that it is temporarily suspending plans to limit the display of WHOIS data to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) currently scheduled to take effect on 25MAY2018. Afilias has received a number of questions about its plans, and anticipates that they may be affected by guidance from data protection authorities that has been requested by ICANN. This guidance is expected to be materially helpful in the community’s efforts to resolve the various issues surrounding GDPR requirements.

Afilias is participating in a number of community groups that are considering these issues, including as a principal in ICANN’s pilot implementation of the Registration Data Access Protocol (RDAP), a potential technical solution for enabling differentiated access to registration data depending on the legitimate purpose of the requestor. For example, law enforcement may need access to certain types of Personally Identifiable Information (PII), trademark guardians to other types, etc. RDAP enables the management of this access in an efficient and effective manner.

As the deadline for GDPR implementation approaches, the community is working diligently in a number of areas to find solutions needed to balance a wide range of community interests. Afilias will continue working collaboratively within these groups in the expectation that appropriate solutions will be reached prior to the GDPR implementation date. Absent guidance from the data protection authorities, Afilias will reconsider its plans as appropriate to ensure compliance with GDPR.

It’s still very possible that Afilias, and other gTLD registries and registrars, could end up gutting Whois in much the same way come May 25 anyway, but for now at least it seems Afilias it willing to play wait-and-see.

As a reminder, there’s going to be an ICANN-supported conference call tomorrow on an Intellectual Property Constituency proposal for a post-GDPR Whois accreditation model.

Whois policy group closes down in face of GDPR

Kevin Murphy, April 4, 2018, Domain Policy

An ICANN working group devoted to crafting Whois policy has closed down “until further notice” in light of the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

The Registration Data Service Policy Development Process Working Group will have no more meetings until it receives “guidance from the [ICANN] Board regarding how this WG will be affected by the GDPR compliance efforts”.

That’s according to WG co-chair Chuck Gomes, in an email to the group this morning. The mailing list will remain active to keep members informed of progress, he said.

The group has been tasked with developing “comprehensive Whois reform”.

It’s been working for over two years to attempt to find consensus on changes such as tiered access and data privacy, the latest iteration of fruitless, fractious Whois policy discussions dating back a couple of decades, and had made very little progress.

Recently, it’s also been hit by infighting and, in my opinion, a sense of helplessness in the face of GDPR, the EU privacy law that will take precedence over any policy ICANN comes up with.

Last month, prominent Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group member Stephanie Perrin publicly resigned from the WG, saying it was “fundamentally flawed” and complaining the process was an “antique” that wasn’t sufficiently taking GDPR into account.

As DI has been reporting for the last several months, there’s very little clarity right now about how GDPR will effect ICANN’s Whois policy.

ICANN CEO Goran Marby told us yesterday that he’s “cautiously optimistic” that EU data protection authorities will soon provide some firm guidance on what it means to be GDPR-compliant.

It appears that the RDS group’s fate may also lie in the hands of the DPAs, for now.

Marby ponders emergency powers to avoid fragmented Whois

Kevin Murphy, April 4, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN could invoke emergency powers in its contracts to prevent Whois becoming “fragmented” after EU privacy laws kick in next month.

That’s a possibility that emerged during a DI interview with ICANN CEO Goran Marby yesterday.

Marby told us that he’s “cautiously optimistic” that European data protection authorities will soon provide clear guidance that will help the domain industry become compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation, which becomes fully effective May 25.

But he said that a lack of such guidance will lead to a situation where different companies provide different levels of public Whois.

“It’s a a high probability that Whois goes fragmented or that Whois will be in a sort of ‘thin’ model in which very little information is collected and very little information is displayed,” he said. “That’s a sort of worst-case scenario.”

I should note that the interview was conducted yesterday before news broke that Afilias has become the first major gTLD registry to announce its Whois output will be essentially thin — eschewing all registrant contact data — from May 25.

Marby has asked European DPAs for two things.

First, guidance on whether its “Cookbook” proposal for a dramatically scaled-back, GDPR-compliant Whois is in fact GDPR-compliant.

Second, an enforcement moratorium while registries and registrars actually go about implementing the Cookbook.

“If we don’t get guidance that’s clear enough, we will see a fragmented Whois. If we get guidance that is clear enough we can work it out,” Marby said.

A moratorium could enable Whois to carry on in its current state, or something close to it, while ICANN goes about creating a new policy that fits with the DPA’s guidance.

If the DPAs refuse a moratorium, we’re looking at a black hole of indeterminate duration during which nobody — not even law enforcement or self-appointed trademark cops — can easily access full Whois records.

“It’s not something I can do anything about, it’s really in the hands of the DPAs,” Marby said. “Remember that it’s the law.”

While ICANN has expended most of its effort to date on creating a model for the public Whois, there’s a parallel effort to create an accreditation program that would enable organizations with “legitimate purposes” to access full, or at least more complete, Whois records.

It’s the IP lawyers that are driving this effort, primarily, terrified that their ability to hunt down cybersquatters and bootleggers will be diminished come May 25.

ICANN has so far resisted calls to endorse the so-called “Cannoli” draft accreditation model, with Marby publicly saying that it needs cross-community support.

But the organization has committed staff support resources to discussion of Cannoli. There’s a new mailing list and there will be a community conference call this coming Friday at 1400 UTC.

Marby said that he shares the worries of the IP community, adding: “If we get the proper guidance from the DPAs, we will know how to sort out the accreditation model.”

He met with the Article 29 Working Party, comprised of DPAs, last week; the group agreed to put Whois on its agenda for its meeting next week, April 10-11.

The fact that it’s up for discussion is what gives Marby his cautious optimism that he will get the guidance he needs.

Assuming the DPAs deliver, ICANN is then in the predicament of having to figure out a way to enforce, via its contracts, a Whois system that is compliant with the DPAs’ interpretation of GDPR.

Usually, this would require a GNSO Policy Development Process leading to a binding Consensus Policy.

But Marby said ICANN’s board of directors has other options, such as what he called an “emergency policy”.

This is a reference, I believe, to the “Temporary Policies” clauses, which can be found in the Registrar Accreditation Agreement and Registry Agreement.

Such policies can be mandated by a super-majority vote of the board, would have to be narrowly tailored to solve the specific problem at hand, and could be in effect no longer than one year.

A temporary policy could be replaced by a compatible, community-created Consensus Policy.

It’s possible that a temporary policy could, for example, force Afilias and others to reverse their plans to switch to thin Whois.

But that’s perhaps getting ahead of ourselves.

Fact is, the advice the DPAs provide following their Article 29 meeting next week is what’s going to define Whois for the foreseeable future.

If the guidance is clear, the ICANN organization and community will have their direction of travel mapped out for them.

If it’s vague, wishy-washy, and non-committal, then it’s likely that only the European Court of Justice will be able to provide clarity. And that would take many years.

And whatever the DPAs say, Marby says it is “highly improbable” that Whois will continue to exist in its current form.

“The GDPR will have an effect on the Whois system. Not everybody will get access to the Whois system. Not everybody will have as easy access as before,” he said.

“That’s not a bug, that’s a feature of the legislation,” he said. “That’s not ICANN’s fault, it’s what the legislator thought when it made this legislation. It is the legislators’ intention to make sure people’s data is handled in a different way going forward, so it will have an effect.”

The community awaits the DPAs’ guidance with baited breath.

Registrars will miss GDPR deadline by a mile

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2018, Domain Registrars

Registries and registrars won’t be able to implement ICANN’s proposed overhaul of the Whois system in time for the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation coming into effect.

That’s according to an estimated timetable (pdf) sent by ICANN’s contracted parties to the organization this week.

While they feel confident that some elements of ICANN’s GDPR compliance plan could be in place before May 25 this year, when the law kicks in, they feel that other elements could take many months to design and roll out.

Depending on the detail of the finalized plan, we could be looking at the back end of 2019 before all the pieces have been put in place.

Crucially, the contracted parties warn that designing and rolling out a temporary method for granting Whois access to entities with legitimate interests in the data, such as police and trademark owners, could take a year.

And that’s just the stop-gap, Band-Aid hack that individual registries and registrars would put in place while waiting — “quarters (or possibly years), rather than months” — for a fully centralized ICANN accreditation solution to be put in place.

The outlook looks bleak for those hoping for uninterrupted Whois access, in other words.

But the timetable lists many other sources of potential delay too.

Even just replacing the registrant’s email address with a web form or anonymized forwarding address could take up to four months to put online, the contracted parties say.

Generally speaking, the more the post-GDPR Whois differs from the current model the longer the contracted parties believe it will take to roll out.

Likewise, the more granular the controls on the data, the longer the implementation window.

For example, if ICANN forces registrars to differentiate between legal and natural persons, or between European and non-European registrants, that’s going to add six months to the implementation time and cost a bomb, the letter says.

Anything that messes with EPP, the protocol underpinning all registry-registrar interactions, will add some serious time to the roll-out too, due to the implementation time and the contractual requirement for a 90-day notice period.

The heaviest workload highlighted in the letter is the proposed opt-in system for registrants (such as domain investors) who wish to waive their privacy rights in favor of making themselves more contactable.

The contracted parties reckon this would take nine months if it’s implemented only at the registrar, or up to 15 months if coordination between registries and registrars is required (and that timeline assumes no new EPP extensions are going to be needed).

It’s possible that the estimates in the letter could be exaggerated as part of the contracted parties’ efforts to pressure ICANN to adopt the kind of post-GDPR Whois they want to see.

But even if we assume that is the case, and even if ICANN were to finalize its compliance model tomorrow, there appears to be little chance that it will be fully implemented at all registrars and registries in time for May 25.

The letter notes that the timetable is an estimate and does not apply to all contracted parties.

As I blogged earlier today, ICANN CEO Goran Marby has this week reached out to data protection authorities across the EU for guidance, in a letter that also asks the DPAs for an enforcement moratorium while the industry and community gets its act together.

Late last year, ICANN also committed not to enforce the Whois elements of its contracts when technical breaches are actually related to GDPR compliance.

ICANN chief begs privacy watchdogs for Whois advice

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Goran Marby has written to the data protection authorities of all 28 European Union states, along with the European Data Protection Supervisor, to ask for guidance on how to implement new privacy laws.

Marby also asked the DPAs about the possibility of an enforcement moratorium, to give the domain industry and ICANN more time to formulate their collective response to the General Data Protection Regulation.

GDPR, which aims to give EU citizens more control over their personal data, comes into full effect May 25. Companies that break the rules face fines that could amount to millions of euros.

But ICANN does not yet have a firm plan for bringing the distributed Whois system into compliance with GDPR, and has repeatedly indicated that it needs guidance from European DPAs.

“ICANN and more than a thousand of the domain names registries and registrars are at a critical juncture,” Marby wrote (pdf).

“We need specific guidance from European data protection authorities in order to meet the needs of the global internet stakeholder community, including governments, privacy authorities, law enforcement agencies, intellectual property holders, cybersecurity experts, domain name registries, registrars, registrants and ordinary internet users,” he wrote.

ICANN has already written a proposal — known as the “Cookbook” and sent to DPAs three weeks ago — for how gTLD registrars and registries could comply with GDPR by removing most fields from public Whois records.

But Marby’s letter points out that many ICANN community members think the Cookbook either goes too far or not far enough.

As we reported a week ago, the Governmental Advisory Committee and Intellectual Property Constituency are not convinced ICANN needs to chop quite as much info from the public Whois as it’s currently planning.

But on the flipside, there are privacy advocates who think far less data should be collected on registrants and fundamentally question ICANN’s power to mandate public Whois access in its registry and registrar contracts.

Both sides of the debate are referenced in the letter.

“Guidance from DPAs on ICANN’s plan of action as presented in the Cookbook, and in particular, the areas where there are competing views, is critical as soon as possible, but particularly during the next few weeks,” Marby wrote.

Whether ICANN will get the answers it needs on the timetable it needs them is open to debate.

Many community members expressed skepticism about whether the DPAs’ commitment to the urgency of the issue matches ICANN’s own, during ICANN 61 earlier this month.

There seemed to be little confidence that the DPAs’ responses, should ICANN receive any, will provide the clarity the industry needs.

It may also be bad timing given the unrelated Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal, which appears to be consuming the attention of some European DPAs.