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ICANN cancels registrar audit as GDPR headaches loom

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2018, Domain Registrars

ICANN has decided to call off a scheduled audit of its registrar base, to enable registrars to focus on sorting out compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation.

The biannual audit, carried out by ICANN Compliance, was due to start in May. As you likely know by now, May 25 is GDPR Day, when the EU’s privacy law comes into full effect.

In a letter (pdf) to registrars, senior VP of compliance Jamie Hedlund said: “The April 2018 registrar audit round is on hold.”

He added: “We are reviewing the schedule, resources and risks associated with holding a single, larger audit round in autumn of 2018, as well as considering alternative approaches.”

His letter came in response to a plea (pdf) from Registrar Stakeholder Group chair Graeme Bunton, who said an audit that clashed with GDPR deadline would be an “enormous undertaking” for affected registrars.

The audits, which have been running for a few years, randomly select a subset of registries and registrars to spot-check compliance with their Registrar Accreditation Agreements and Registry Agreements.

The program looks at 20-odd areas of compliance, one of which is Whois provision.

Iceland breaks ranks on Whois, will publish emails

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2018, Domain Policy

Iceland’s ccTLD has become what I believe is the first registry to state that it will continue to publish email addresses in public Whois records after the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect.

The move seems to put the registry, ISNIC, in direct conflict with the opinions of European data protection authorities.

The company said in a statement last week that after GDPR comes into effect May 25 it will stop publishing almost all personal information about .is registrants in the public Whois.

However, it broke ranks with other European ccTLDs and the likely ruleset for ICANN-regulated gTLDs, by saying it would not expunge email addresses:

ISNIC will however, at least for the time being, continue to publish email addresses, country and techincal information of all NIC-handles associated with .is domains. Those customers (individuals) who have recorded a personally identifiable email address, and do not want it published, will need to change their .is WHOIS email address to something impersonal.

Registrants will be able to opt in to having their full details published.

ISNIC appears to be taking a principled stand against the Draconian regulation. It said in a statement:

Assuming that GDPR directive applies fully to the “WHOIS” service provided for decades by most ccTLD registries, these new restrictions will lead to less transparency in domain registrations and less trust in the domain registration system in general. ISNIC, as many others, strongly disagrees with the view of the European parlament [sic] in this matter and warns that GDPR, as it is being implemented, will neither lead to better privacy nor a safer network environment.

It’s a surprising decision, given that privacy regulators have indicated that they agree that email addresses are personal data that should not be published.

The Article 29 Working Party told ICANN earlier this month that it “welcomed” a proposal to replace email addresses with anonymized emails or web-based contact forms.

Nominet to charge brands for no-name Whois access

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Registries

Nominet has become the second major registry to announce that trademark lawyers will have to pay for Whois after the EU General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect next month.

The company said late last week that it will offer the intellectual property community two tiers of Whois access.

First, they can pay for a searchable Whois with a much more limited output.

Nominet said that “users of the existing Searchable WHOIS who are not law enforcement will continue to have access to the service on a charged-for basis however the registrant name and address will be redacted”.

Second, they can request the full Whois record (including historical data) for a specific domain and get a response within one business day for no charge.

Approved law enforcement agencies will continue to get unfettered access to both services — with “enhanced output” for the searchable Whois — for no charge, Nominet said.

These changes were decided upon following a month-long consultation which accepted comments from interested parties.

Other significant changes incoming include:

  • Scrapping UK-presence requirements for second-level registrations.
  • Doing away with the current privacy services framework, offloading GDPR liability to registrars providing such services.
  • Creating a standard opt-in mechanism for registrants who wish for their personal data to be disclosed in public Whois.

Nominet is the second registry I’m aware of to say it will charge brand owners for Whois access, after CoCCA 10 days ago.

CoCCA has since stated that it will sell IP owners a PDF containing the entire unredacted Whois history of a domain for $3, if they declare that they have a legitimate interest in the domain.

It also said they will be able to buy zone file access to the dozens of TLDs running on the CoCCA platform for $88 per TLD.

Now GNSO mulls emergency response to GDPR deadline

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN’s GNSO Council is thinking about deploying a never-before-used emergency mechanism to develop a Whois privacy policy in response to GDPR.

With the May 25 deadline for compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation fast approaching, the community is scrambling to figure out how it can bring ICANN’s policies and therefore its contracts into line with the Draconian privacy provisions of the new law.

Currently, ICANN contracts with registries and registrars demand the publication of full Whois records, something GDPR will not permit, so each company in the industry is busily figuring out how its own Whois database will comply.

Fearful of a “fragmented” Whois, ICANN’s board of directors is considering deploying its own top-down emergency measure — called a Temporary Policy in its contracts — to ensure uniformity across its contracts.

CEO Goran Marby revealed to DI earlier this month that a Temporary Policy was being considered, and he and other members of the board confirmed as much to GNSO leadership during a telephone briefing last week.

(It should be noted that the call took place prior to the receipt last week of guidance from the EU Article 29 Working Party, which prompted ICANN to start mulling legal options as one way to buy the industry some time to comply post-May.)

The call (recorded here with password Eur3wiEK and summarized in this letter (pdf)), focused almost exclusively on how the Council could respond to a board-mandated Temporary Policy, with the board suggesting a GNSO Expedited Policy Development Process might be the best way to proceed.

A Temporary Policy would expire within a year, so the GNSO would have to come up with a formal Consensus Policy within that time-frame if ICANN were to have any hope of having a uniform view of Whois across its contracts.

The Temporary Policy is a “strong option” for the board, and a “highly likely or likely” outcome, but nothing has been formally decided, the GNSO leaders heard from ICANN vice-chair Chris Disspain. He was briefly challenged by Marby, who appeared somewhat more committed to the move.

While the GNSO Council has not yet formally decided to deploy the EPDP, it appears to be the most-feasible option to meet the deadline a Temporary Policy would impose.

It is estimated that an EPDP could take as little as 360 days, compared to the estimated 849 days of a regular PDP.

The EPDP cuts out several of the initial steps of a regular PDP — mainly the need for an Initial Report and associated public comment period — which by my reading would shorten the process by at least 100 days.

It also seems to give the GNSO some wriggle room in how the actual policy creation takes place. It appears that the regular “working group” structure could be replaced, for example, with a “drafting team”.

If the EPDP has the Temporary Policy and WP29 guidance as its baseline for discussions, that could also help cut out some of the circular argument that usually characterizes Whois discussions.

Aware that the EPDP is a strong possibility, the Council is currently planning to give itself a crash course in the process, which has never been used before by any iteration of the Council.

It’s uncharted territory for both the GNSO and the ICANN board, and the only people who seem to have a firm grasp on how the two emergency mechanisms slot together are the ICANN staffers who are paid to know such things.

UPDATE: A couple of hours after this article was published, ICANN posted this three-page flow-chart (pdf) comparing EPDP to PDP. Lots of luck.

CoCCA to charge trademark owners for Whois access

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2018, Domain Registries

CoCCA has become the first domain registry to publicly announce that it will charge trademark owners for access to Whois records.

The company said it plans to release an updated version of its software and registry service, containing a range of features for ensuring General Data Protection Regulation compliance, on April 20.

The public Whois records of affected TLDs will have the name, email, phone and physical address of the registrant omitted, but only if the registrant is an EU resident or uses an EU-based registrar or reseller.

There will be ways to opt-out of this, for registrants who want their information public.

The changes will come into effect first at .af, .cx, .gs, .gy, .ht, .hn, .ki, .kn, .sb, .tl, .kn, .ms and .nf, CoCCA said.

But the registry runs almost 40 gTLDs on its shared infrastructure and has almost 20 more running its software. They’re all pretty small zones, mostly ccTLDs.

CoCCA said that it will give access to private data to law enforcement and members of the Secure Domain Foundation, a DNS reputation service provider.

But trademark owners will get hit in the wallet if they want the same privileges. CoCCA said:

intellectual property owners or other entities who have a legitimate interest in redacted data will be able to order historical abstracts online for a nominal fee (provided they sign an attestation).

While the affected TLDs are probably small enough that the IP lobby won’t be overly concerned today, if CoCCA’s policy becomes more widespread in the industry — which it well could — expect an outcry.

Panic stations as Europe plays hardball on Whois privacy

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2018, Domain Policy

Hopes that Whois records will continue to be available to broad sections of the internet community appeared dashed this week as European data protection heads ripped holes in ICANN’s plan for the industry to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation.

ICANN CEO Goran Marby warned that Whois faces imminent fragmentation and expressed disappointment that authorities have basically ignored his repeated requests for a moratorium on GDPR enforcement.

The Article 29 Working Party, made up of the heads of data protection authorities of EU member states, told ICANN this week that its so-called “Cookbook” compliance plan is nowhere near detailed enough.

In a letter (pdf), it also strongly hinted that intellectual property interests have little hope of retaining access to Whois contact information after GDPR comes into effect next month.

Any notion that WP29 might tell ICANN that the Cookbook was an over-reaction to GDPR, eschewing too many data elements from public records, was firmly put to bed.

Instead, the group explicitly supported ICANN’s plan to replace email addresses in the public Whois with anonymized addresses or a web-based registrant contact form.

It said it “welcomes the proposal to significantly reduce the types of personal data that shall be made publically [sic] available, as well as its proposal [to] introduce alternative methods to contact registrants”.

It also approved of the plan for a “layered” access plan, under which some entities — law enforcement in particular — would be able to access private contact information under an accreditation program.

But WP29 pooh-poohed the idea, put forward by some in the trademark community, that access to Whois could be restricted merely with the use of an IP address white-list.

It warned that the purposes for such access should be explicitly defined and said that what can be accessed should be tightly controlled.

WP29 does not appear to be a fan of anyone, even accredited users, getting bulk access to private Whois data.

While the group endorsed the idea that law enforcement agencies should be able to access Whois, it failed to provide similar comfort to IP interests, security researchers and other groups with self-declared “legitimate interests” in the data.

In what I’m reading as a veiled attack on the IP lobby, the WP29 letter says:

ICANN should take care in defining purposes in a manner which corresponds to its own organisational mission and mandate, which is to coordinate the stable operation of the Internet’s unique identifier systems. Purposes pursued by other interested third parties should not determine the purposes pursued by ICANN. The WP29 cautions ICANN not to conflate its own purposes with the interests of third parties, nor with the lawful grounds of processing which may be applicable in a particular case.

While it would be fairly easy to argue that giving access to security researchers contributes to “stable operation of the Internet’s unique identifier systems”, I think it would be considerably harder to argue that giving trademark owners an easy way to pursue suspected cybersquatters does the same.

In short, the letter clarifies that, rather than complying too much, ICANN has not gone far enough.

WP29 also roundly ignored ICANN’s request for an enforcement moratorium to give the community enough time to come up with a compliance policy and the industry enough time to implement it, irking ICANN into threatening legal action.

Marby said in a blog post yesterday:

Without a moratorium on enforcement, WHOIS will become fragmented and we must take steps to mitigate this issue. As such, we are studying all available remedies, including legal action in Europe to clarify our ability to continue to properly coordinate this important global information resource. We will provide more information in the coming days.

He said that the WP29 statement puts ICANN at odds with the consensus advice of its Governmental Advisory Committee — which, it should be noted, includes the European Commission and most of the EU member states.

The GAC has told ICANN to “Ensure that the proposed interim model maintains current WHOIS requirements to the fullest extent possible” and to reconsider its plan to remove registrant email addresses from public records.

That’s how stupid the situation has become — the same governments telling ICANN to retain email addresses is also telling it to remove them.

Outside of Europe, the United States government has been explicit that it wants Whois access to remain available.

Marby said that an ICANN delegation will attend a meeting of the WP29 Technology Subgroup in Brussels on April 23 to further discuss the outstanding issues.

In a quick response (pdf) to the WP29 letter, he warned that a fragmented Whois and the absence of a moratorium could spell doom for the smooth functioning of the internet.

We strongly believe that if WHOIS is fragmented, it will have a detrimental impact on the entire Internet. A key function of WHOIS allows those participating in the domain name system and in other aspects of work on the Internet to know who else is working within that system. Those working on the Internet require the information contained within WHOIS to be able to communicate with others working within that system.

Reaction from elsewhere in the community has so far comprised variations of “told you so” and hand-wringing about the impact after May 25.

Michele Neylon, head of the registrar Blacknight, blogged that the letter signaled “game over” for the public Whois.

“Come the end of May, public whois as we know it will be dead,” he wrote.

Academic Farzaneh Badii, executive director of the Internet Governance Project and a leading figure in ICANN’s non-commercial users community, blamed several factors for the current 11th-hour predicament, but mainly the fact that her constituency’s lobbying was ignored for so long.

“The Noncommercial Stakeholders Group was the broken record that everyone perceived as not worth paying attention to. But GDPR got real and ICANN has to deal with it,” she wrote.

Matt Serlin of the IP-centric registrar Brandsight, wrote that the letter was “predictable” and said:

The WHOIS system, as it has been known for two decades, will cease to exist. Unfettered access to registration information for gTLDs is simply not going to be possible going forward after May 25th. Yes, there are still questions as to what the final model ICANN puts forth will be, but it will certainly drastically change how WHOIS will function.

Serlin held out some hope that the unspecified legal action Marby has floated may go some way to extend the May 25 GDPR enforcement date.

The community awaits Marby’s next update with bated breath.

ICANN confirms GoDaddy Whois probe

ICANN is looking into claims that GoDaddy is in breach of its registrar accreditation contract.

The organization last week told IP lawyer Brian Winterfeldt that his complaint about the market-leading registrar throttling and censoring Whois queries over port 43 is being looked at by its compliance department.

The brief note (pdf) says that Compliance is “in receipt of the correspondence and will address it under its process”.

Winterfeldt is annoyed that GoDaddy has starting removing contact information from its port 43 Whois responses, in what the company says is an anti-spam measure.

It’s also started throttling port 43 queries, causing no end of problems at companies such as DomainTools.

Winterfeldt wrote last month “nothing in their contract permits GoDaddy to mask data elements, and evidence of illegality must be obtained before GoDaddy is permitted to throttle or deny port 43 Whois access to any particular IP address”.

It’s worth saying that ICANN is not giving any formal credibility to the complaint merely by looking into it.

But while it’s usual for ICANN to publish its responses to correspondence it has received and published, it’s rather less common for it to disclose the existence of a compliance investigation before it has progressed to a formal breach notice.

It could all turn out to be moot anyway, given the damage GDPR is likely to do to Whois across the industry in a matter of weeks.

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.