Whowas Service -- More Evidence that Whois IS a Privacy Issue
Date: Tuesday January 14 2003, @07:25PM
Topic: Privacy

The Trademark Blog carries an upbeat report about what it cheerfully dubs a "Whowas" service announced last month by Thompson.

Now your Whois entries will live forever in a searchable database. Oh, joy.

Trademark lawyers do have a legitimate reason to want this data: I agree with the TM Blog that it is genuinely useful, even necessary, to demonstrate a pattern and practice of cybersquatting. Indeed, the fact that UDRP lawyers might need actual evidence to show bad faith -- rather than being able to rely on just asserting it and saying 'the domain name is similar to the mark; QED" -- is a healthy sign (or a sign of Schwimmer's professionalism, but I digress).

Be that as it may, the permanence of whois info is something to keep in mind while considering recent proposals to require yet more data be published in whois as a condition of registering a domain name. (See Kathy Kleiman's recent essay, Personal Privacy and Anonymous Speech at Risk in WHOIS proposals).

The dateline of the Thompson press release is London. That surprised me, as I would have thought that this database would violate both the UK Data Protection Act, and the relevant EU privacy directive. Dialog (the Thompson company providing the service) has its HQ in the US, and the database probably lives in the US too. Even so, I would have thought there would be issues.... Any EU privacy lawyers out there able to comment?

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Privacy rules for WHOIS
by dtobias (dan@tobias.name) on Wednesday January 15 2003, @11:17AM (#10968)
User #2967 Info | http://domains.dan.info/
Perhaps different TLDs ought to have different privacy rules, depending on their intended purpose. There are very different standards to be expected of commercial sites, noncommercial sites, and personal sites.

A domain intended specifically for personal use, like .name or several subdomains in country codes (.me.[CCTLD]), should have a high degree of privacy protection, with only bare minimal info available by default to the public. (In fact, there is a proposal by the .name registry to enact such restrictions in an amendment of their ICANN agreement.)

Domains intended for noncommercial uses, but not necessarily personal (e.g., .org), need some sensitivity to privacy protection; there may be politically sensitive things like protest and dissident groups that fear persecution and have legitimate need to hide their location and contact information. On the other hand, since such organizations may be soliciting donations from the public, there are many circumstances where they require accountability in ways that private individuals do not, so their privacy rights might not be as unbreakable.

Domains intended for commercial use (.com, .biz) arguably have little or no expectation of privacy; doing business generally requires accountability that comes from having one's contact information be publicly available. One can still use such things as P.O. boxes and maildrops to keep some degree of privacy.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]
by isquat on Wednesday January 15 2003, @10:14PM (#10973)
User #3363 Info | http://i.squ.at/
Is it ironic that the whois data for dialog.com (the domain where the database is available) is incomplete? Maybe it should be disabled immediately and deleted in 15 days to set an example to all the "cybersquatters"? What use will Thompson's whois have, if data are missing?
So let's set an example. Thompson might even benefit from it.
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