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Whois database targeted for destruction

Sunset strip

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The long-running attempt by privacy advocates to bin the Whois database will be up for vote at the ICANN meeting in Los Angeles tomorrow.

Cheerleaders for the six-year-old "sunset proposal" say people shouldn't be required to give up personal information to the web to register a domain name. It is frequently abused by spammers and fraudsters, they argue.

Whois dates back to the early 1980s, when the internet was comprised and used by trusted government and academic institutions.

The calls for registrars to be more discerning about who they share Whois data with are opposed by law enforcement and lawyers. They say that ease of access is central to its usefulness.

For webmasters concerned about anonymity the current system presents a dilemma. If they don't give accurate personal information and someone complains about their site, they could lose the domain name. Alternatively, they must submit to junk mail and potential harrassment by web crackpots.

The debate is further complicated by the fact that some registrars already provide a premium "hidden Whois" service for the privacy-conscious.

The sunset proposal is being pushed at ICANN by generic names councillor Ross Rader, who works for internet services firm Tucows. he wrote on his blog in March: "For as long as the Whois system has been around, they've been able to look up your personal contact data and churn out demand letters and other nasty legal notices on demand."

Rader doesn't neccessarily want to scrap Whois outright, but would like to ditch the current setup so that ICANN's bureaucracy is kickstarted into drawing up new rules that err on the side of privacy. He claims some participants have stalled negotiations to reform the system over the years because the current system plays into their hands, reports the Associated Press.

US telco giant AT&T is calling for further study of abuse of Whois before any decisions on the database's future are taken. The AP reporter at ICANN reckons that's the most likely option to prevail tomorrow.

More here. Burke Hansen is our man on the ground at the talks. We'll keep you posted. ®

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