ICANN Policy Issue: WHOIS Data Protection & Individual Privacy

IP Justice considers ICANN’s policies for the collection and management of domain name owners’ personal information to violate universally recognized privacy and freedom of expression rights. Most countries in the world have constitutions or other legal instruments guaranteeing individuals the right to speak, publish, communicate, or otherwise express one’s opinions and views without burdensome governmental restrictions. For example, the United States’ First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression to its citizens in order to foster robust public debate and protect the rights of unpopular or controversial speakers. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights likewise guarantees freedom of expression rights for all citizens.

By forcing the disclosure and publication of every website owner’s name, home address, home telephone number and email address, ICANN intrudes upon the privacy rights of Internet users around the world. ICANN should respect the privacy rights of individuals and change its policies to provide for optional disclosure and to prohibit any use of the information without the subject’s explicit consent.

In April 2006, ICANN’s GNSO Policy Council voted to begin the necessary reform to ICANN’s Whois data policies in order to protect the privacy rights of Internet users. By narrowing defining the purpose for which the data is collected. On 12 April 2006, by an 18-9 vote (2/3 super-majority), the GNSO Policy Council passed the following recommendation regarding the definition of the purpose of Whois:

“The purpose of the gTLD Whois service is to provide information sufficient to contact a responsible party for a particular gTLD domain name who can resolve, or reliably pass on data to a party who can resolve, issues related to the configuration of the records associated with the domain name within a DNS nameserver.”


Large trademark holders are unhappy about the decision because they do not want to go through “the hassle” of legal due process in order to obtain personally identifying information about someone they suspect of wrong-doing. The US Government and the IPR lobby are now trying to “undo” the GNSO’s vote for privacy – stay tuned.

ICANN’s Non-Commercial User’s Constituency (NCUC) hosted a conference during the Vancouver 2005 ICANN Board meeting on the whois privacy issue. Speakers included attorney Kathryn Kleiman, Marcus Heyder of the US Federal Trade Commission, Stephanie Perrin of Canadian Privacy Commission, Ross Rader of ICANN’s Registrar Constituency, and others. The agenda and presentations from the conference are available here and photos are here.


Above (left) Robin Gross at NCUC’s Whois privacy Conference, and (right) Marcus Heyder of US Federal Trade Commission.