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Child abuse cop slams ICANN

'Accurate Whois is a joke. It just doesn't happen,' says Interpol kid protector

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One of Interpol's top child porn cops has launched a blistering attack on the domain name industry and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for not doing enough to help law enforcement tackle child abuse imagery online.

At ICANN's public meeting in San Francisco this week, Garda Síochána's Michael Moran, on secondment to Interpol for the last five years as Coordinator of the Crimes Against Children team, slammed the domain name industry on at least two fronts.

First, he said that police lack a reliable way to quickly request that domains that lead to images of child abuse are suspended. Second, he said the accuracy of Whois records, which ostensibly contain the true name and contact information of domain name owners, needs to be more strictly enforced, so that abusers can be tracked down and arrested.

"Accurate Whois is a joke. It just doesn't happen," Moran said. "We don't see it, we never get it. Even if we do see something within it that might give us indications, it's always a dead end and it's a waste of time even trying. What's the point in having a Whois database if it can't be accurate? Somebody has to be responsible for having that accurate, and whoever that somebody is, can you please step up to the plate and do your work?"

His comments came during a session on DNS abuse at ICANN's 40th public meeting, which is being held all week at the Westin St Francis hotel in San Francisco. It was the seventh such discussion between law enforcement and the industry held by ICANN – there have been several more hosted recently by international governments – and Moran expressed frustration that there has been more talk about cooperation than hard action.

"Let's clear away the chairs and start dancing," he concluded.

Price constraints

Domain registrars are generally reluctant to implement technical measures, such as identity verification, that can add friction to the domain registration process or increase the price of a domain name. It's a fiercely competitive market. In addition, they argue that pre-checking Whois information for accuracy would only truly be of value to police if it was obligatory industry-wide practice, otherwise criminals would simply shop around for registrars with lax controls.

Interpol's Moran noted that payment processors, including the major credit card companies, have a Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography, which will immediately terminate the merchant account of any website police say is selling child abuse material. He called upon the domain name industry to create a similar coalition to suspend domain names associated with child porn.

"We would love to see an automatic system whereby, upon notification, ICANN, or whoever, can just sever them," Moran said, noting that Interpol maintains a "worst of" list of less than 400 domain names at any given time that are being used to traffic the most egregious types of child porn. On the current list, more than half of the domains are dot-coms.

Bobby Flaim of the FBI noted that there are "pockets of excellence" within the domain name industry, but that cooperation with law enforcement needs to be 100 per cent if it is to make a difference. ICANN requires registrars to enforce the accuracy of their customers' Whois records, and the leading registrars are often quite strict about complying with this rule. But with almost 1,000 ICANN-accredited registrars, there are many "rogue" companies with fewer scruples.

"We have no interest in our system being used to enable people to commit crimes on the internet," said Christine Jones, general counsel of Go Daddy, which has 100 staff on its abuse team. "But ... until all of the registrars are held to a standard that says you have to take care of the bad guys on your system, no matter how much effort Go Daddy and other good registrars put into this problem you're never going to solve it because there will always be a safe harbour, a bullet-proof registrar or a bullet-proof hosting provider those bad guys can go and seek solace in.

"We have to fix that hole in the fence." ®

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