ICANN considers banning privacy services

By EDRi · July 15, 2015

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is proposing a new Internet policy which comes at the expense of human rights, especially privacy and freedom of speech. The proposed rules are addressed to companies that provide WHOIS privacy/proxy services (which restrict access to domain registrant information) and limit their availability to individuals only, denying this service to organisations.

Why is this a problem?

When you register a domain on the Internet, you are asked for a set of information which will appear in the WHOIS database – a public registry with all the domain names.

Under the terms of the ICANN proposal, domain name registrants who will register commercial sites will not have the possibility to make the registration via companies that offer the service of de-listing personal information from the WHOIS registry. This policy would be unfair and discriminatory for vulnerable groups, organisations and entrepreneurs who wish to exercise their right to freedom of expression on the Internet. Is it even in ICANN’s remit to decide what is a commercial activity and what is not? And what is a commercial site? Is it a non-governmental organisation (NGO) selling personalised merchandise via a commercial site? What about a humanitarian website asking for donations? Or a blog that sells advertisement space?

It is important to understand that there are actors such as political groups, religious organisations, ethnic groups, gender orientation groups, and others engaged in freedom of expression activities who have a clear need for protection.

EDRi member ApTI has prepared a comment for ICANN’s public consultation expressing firm disapproval regarding the proposal. Below are some of the reasons why greater confidentiality and privacy are needed in the WHOIS directory:

1. ICANN’s anti privacy domain registration = the new Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

The copyright industry’s pressure on ICANN to take action against domains being used for infringing purposes is well known. However, the domain name industry should not be asked to play any part in policing the Internet by being forced to suspend Internet domain names based on accusations of copyright or trademark infringement by a website. The effort to restrict the privacy of domain name registrants is part of this wider lobbying effort to push ICANN into an enforcement role.

2. Privacy and anonymity are fundamental for the open use of the Internet

The argument that criminals use proxy and privacy registrations to hide their identities has been intensively used in the WHOIS privacy debate. However, illegal uses represent a small minority of cases and privacy registrations do not contribute to a wide-spread criminal behaviour. The vast majority of domain owners are not criminals, so why put everyone at risk just for catching few perpetrators? This measure is disproportionate and unjustified and it resembles the deeply flawed reasoning behind adopting mass surveillance decisions.

3. The proposal violates the Internet’s core values

The proposal closes up the free and open use of the Internet. Certain categories of people will be left with no guarantees that their message will be delivered without abuse and repercussions. Website owners with less popular content or presenting dissident views will fear becoming easy targets. With their sensitive data displayed in the public registry, more and more people will refrain from making their voice heard online. Self-censorship is not going to contribute to a free and open Internet.

Several privacy campaigns opposing ICANN’s proposal, such as and, were launched, and a total of 11510 comments were sent to the public consultation. The comments are publicly available and a report based on the inputs received is expected on 21 July 2015.

ApTI’s full comment for ICANN’s public consultation (07.07.2015)

ICANN: Initial Report on the Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues Policy Development Process (05.05.2015)

Save domain privacy

Changes to domain name rules place user privacy in jeopardy (23.06.2015)

MPAA & RIAA demand DNS action against “pirate” domains (14.05.2015)

GNSO privacy & proxy services accreditation issues working group initial report (05.05.0215)

Comments to the public consultation

(Contribution by Valentina Pavel, EDRi member ApTI, Romania)