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Domain registrars push back on law enforcement changes

Changes through the backdoor?

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The companies that sell domain names have pushed back on proposals made by law enforcement yesterday to change their contracts to make cybercrime more difficult.

Calling the proposals “policy by the back door”, the registrars complained to members of ICANN’s Board in Brussels that the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA) should only be changed through the organization’s official policy-development process. And they asked for the Board’s help in making sure they weren’t used as the fall-guys for online crime.

In a main session yesterday at the ICANN meeting in Brussels, the international police, including the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, argued for changes to the contract that defines what registrars are obliged to do, in an effort to make sure there were “mandatory minimum standards” in the registration of domain names.

But the registrars themselves feel that publicizing changes to their main contract without going through the proper processes put them into a defensive position and made their business environment difficult.

Contracts need to remain stable for periods of time, argued Rob Hall, the CEO of Canada’s largest registrar, Momentus, and there needed to be a clear process for making changes to it. Shifts in the rapidly changing domain name system could be done instead through more-flexible best practices.

Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, the third largest registrar in the world, agreed, complaining that the good actors — who represent the vast majority of domain names in existence — risk being punished for the behavior of a few bad actors. “No one in this room [i.e., a member of the registrar constituency of ICANN] has ever had a complaint held against them or been de-accredited,” he pointed out.

The changes suggested by law enforcement would cause registrars to have to make potentially costly changes to their businesses, with some of that cost likely passed onto everyday Internet users.

Instead of “forcing through” changes to the RAA and making registrars figure out how to change their business models, others within ICANN — including governments and law enforcement themselves — could do more work at their end to ease the headaches, Noss said. This might include producing a clear definition of whom would be entitled to access to private data for defeating cybercriminals and how this would work.

Hall also argued that some of the changes being proposed would never make it through the rigorous policy development process and so were being pushed through a different route.

In response, ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush agreed strongly with the point that significant changes to the RAA should only come through the approved policy processes and vowed to make sure that happened.

Board member and CFO of another registrar, Melbourne IT, Bruce Tonkin, agreed and argued that ICANN occasionally confused what was a policy decision with what was an implementation of existing policy.

All that said, the chair of the registrars' constituency, Mason Cole from Oversee, pointed out that the registrars had had a very productive meeting with the law enforcement officials earlier in the day and would be actively working with them to find ways to cut down on cybercrime.

So long as it doesn’t contractually oblige them to fix the problem, that is. ®

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