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Cybercops close to domain conduct deal

Useless guidelines for harmless registrars

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Law enforcement agencies and domain name registrars are nearing agreement on ways to start to clean up the domain name industry and mutually help prevent cybercrime.

Here in Singapore, at ICANN's 41st international public meeting, registrars have held a series of meetings this week with police and governmental representatives, which may be ready to bear fruit.

But an original set of 12 recommendations, designed in part to beef up the accuracy of contact information in Whois databases and make it easier to track down online crooks, has been substantially watered down.

The recommendations were first submitted in February by the FBI, SOCA, the Mounties, and other law enforcement agencies from around the world.

Now, after over a year of sporadic discussions with registrars about a "code of conduct", the United States and European Union governments are extremely eager for registrars to agree to a set of voluntary best practices, before they meet for bilateral talks on cybersecurity this November.

As such, registrars are winning big concessions from law enforcement's initial list of demands, and the remaining list of nine provisions now consists of super-basic stuff such as forcing registrars to disclose their address and the name of their CEO on their websites.

The recommendations no longer call for registrars to validate the identities of their customers at the time a domain name is registered, or to keep records of the IP addresses used to register names.

It also seems likely that a requirement for registrars to "take reasonable steps to investigate and respond to any reports... of illegal, criminal or malicious conduct in connection with the use of domain names" will be eschewed in future drafts.

But even some of the remaining recommendations are facing resistance.

Remarkably, one registrar on a panel in Singapore yesterday said he would have a problem publishing an abuse contact address on his site because it would lead to too many customer support emails.

He also did not want to publish the company's mailing address on his site because it's technically based in the Bahamas for tax purposes.

Domain registrars, even the industry's many more responsible players, are generally reluctant to embrace measures that would add friction to their shopping carts or cost money to implement.

But it seems that law enforcement is now ready to give ground to many of these concerns, in order to produce a set of basic industry best practices that registrars can agree to before the governmental EU-US Working Group on Cyber-security and Cyber-crime meets again in November.

Some registrars, sick of their industry being cast in a bad light due to the bad apples, are also prepared to sign up to best practices in order to demonstrate their corporate responsibility.

But as one registrar pointed out during yesterday, a set of voluntary guidelines "doesn't really solve the problem", because registrars that turn a blind eye to criminal customers simply will not sign up to it.

However, law enforcement and governments are playing the long game, hoping that whatever best practices they can persuade the responsible majority of the domain name industry to adhere to today will eventually form the basis of an obligatory part of ICANN's standard registrar contract.

Given ICANN's lengthy policy-making process, this goal is likely some years away. ®

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