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    Privacy WHOIS Contact Info Rule Stifles Political Dissent?
    posted by michael on Monday May 12 2003, @04:32AM

    As noted by Danny Younger on the GA list, FrontPageMagazine.com carries a story by "Lisa S." called Hollywood's Chill Wind of Censorship. Is this a sign that WHOIS rules enable censorship? Or is it rather a sign that they just inconvenience upopular speakers?



    The author describes how she founded a "Boycott Hollywood" web site, (origianally at boycott-hollywood.us, now at boycott-hollywood.net. This lead to a reaction by the William Morris Agency, which represents a number of the stars criticized at the boycott-hollywood web site. According to the author, rather than contact her directly using the email address at the web site, William Morris went to Dotster, her registrar, with accuations of libel and unspecified other offenses.

    In this, at least, the complaint was justified: the contact info was false. The article is a little obscure here, but it seems that it was originally accurate, leading to death threats, so "I substituted my own contact information with erroneous information until I could secure a legitimate Post Office Box." (It doesn't take that long to get a PO Box, does it?). Then Dotster got nasty:

    Dotster informed me that providing false contact information to the database violated the contract between me and Dotster, and they would be suspending my registration. They further informed me that the website would be down within 24 hours. I explained, in detail, to Dotster why I changed the contact information and I offered to correct the information immediately – as the ICANN Terms of Service does recommend allowing 15 days to rectify the matter. Nonetheless, the person I spoke with at Dotster refused to allow me the ability to correct the information and maintain ownership of the domain.
    The upshot is that the author went out and registered a bunch of alternate domain names, and the site is still up and running at one of them.

    So what's the bottom line. Is this an example of WHOIS silencing dissent, enabling corporations to crush the little guy? Or is this an example of the plasticity of the web, demonstrating that a determined person cannot be squelched?

    Seems to me it's a bit of both. The default WHOIS policy frustrates the normal expectation of at least US persons, who don't expect to be penalized for masking their identity in what seems to be an ordinary commercial transaction. Requiring folks to buy a post office box to preserve their privacy is in effect a small tax on anonymous speech (and it's not completely anonymous, as the post office requires you to identify yourself to rent a box). Dotster's policy of not letting people fix their contact info when challenged is stupid and mean if applied across the board, and simply craven if applied inconsistently to controversial speakers. But the fact remains that Lisa S. was able to register boycotthollywood.us, boycott-hollywood.net, boycott-hollywood.org and boycott-hollywood.biz, and is changing registrars too. More inconvenienced than silenced, it seems.

     
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      Related Links  
  • Danny Younger, former GA Chair
  • ICANN
  • boycott-hollywood.net
  • Dotster
  • accuations
  • libel
  • unspecified other offenses
  • noted
  • Hollywood's Chill Wind of Censorship
  • More on Privacy
  • Also by michael
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