The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) failed to overcome a stalemate on its efforts to reform the way that domain names WHOIS data is handled. The WHOIS registry contains the names, address, and contact information of Internet domain name registrants. The information contained in the registry is public, with the exception of domain names with proxy registration.
Businesses, law enforcement, and especially Intellectual Property and Internet Lawyers regularly utilize the domain names WHOIS registry to identify cybersquatters, spammers, phishers, trademark infringers, copyright infringers, and others. However, the WHOIS registry is also open to abuse and can potentially expose domain name registrants to spam as well as Internet privacy violations. ICANN’s attempts to reform the WHOIS system to balance the ability to identify cyber wrongdoers against privacy concerns have failed.
Several proposals failed to gain acceptance. For example, under a proposal called the “Operational Point of Contact”, domain name registrars would continue collecting contact information from domain name registrants. However, domain name registrants would have been required to keep certain information shielded from public access with certain exceptions. Defining these exceptions was fatal for this proposal.
A different proposal included shielding the contact information of individual domain registrants but not the information of commercial registrants. The difficulty of determining whether a domain name registrant was “commercial” proved fatal for this proposal.
These proposals, as well as others failed and an acceptable compromise between the needs for privacy and the need for identification was not reached. In the foreseeable future, the only mechanism available to domain name registrants who choose to remain anonymous is to purchase proxy registrations from the domain name registrars.