ALAC Comments on Privacy of Personal Data in the Whois System
The At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) recommended changes to improve notification and consent for the use of individuals’ contact data in the WHOIS system. Responding to a report issued by the Generic Names Supporting Organization’s (GNSO’s) “WHOIS task forces,” the ALAC suggested ways of making the proposed WHOIS policy more clear, enhancing registrants’ experience, and strengthening mandatory disclosure on how individuals’ information will be used. The ALAC urges interested individuals to review the task forces’ report, and share their views. Send comments for public posting to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Policy Development Process
The GNSO initiated a process to develop new policy on use of contact data in the WHOIS system in October 2003. Three separate task forces – each with an At-Large liaison – were addressing these issues, and the ALAC has provided advice on: restricting access to WHOIS data for marketing purposes; review of data collected and displayed; and improving accuracy of collected data.
The three task forces issued a “Combined Whois Task Force Preliminary Report” for public comment on 23 April 2005. The report includes recommendations on improving notification and consent for the use of contact data in the WHOIS system, including disclosures to registrants regarding availability and third-party access to personal data associated with domain names. Specifically, the report recommends:
- Registrars must ensure that disclosures regarding availability and third-party access to personal data associated with domain names actually be presented to registrants during the registration pro(cess. Linking to an external web page is not sufficient.
- Registrars must ensure that these disclosures are set aside from other provisions of the registration agreement if they are presented to registrants together with that agreement. Alternatively, registrars may present data access disclosures separate from the registration agreement. The wording of the notice provided by registrars should, to the extent feasible, be uniform.
- Registrars must obtain a separate acknowledgement from registrants that they have read and understand these disclosures. This provision does not affect registrars' existing obligations to obtain registrant consent to the use of their contact information in the WHOIS system.
The ALAC expressed support for the concept of mandatory disclosure that underlies the task forces’ recommendations and suggested specific ways to improve it:
The At Large Advisory Committee ("ALAC") appreciates the opportunity to review and comment on the latest work of the Generic Names Supporting Organization on the subject of improving notification and consent for the use of contact data in the Whois system. The ALAC supports the concept of mandatory disclosure that underlies these recommendations but believes that the following two changes would bring clarity to the proposed policy and enhance the registrant's experience:
1. In Recommendation No. 1, the phrase "availability and" does not appear to add anything to the policy and, as phrased, potentially creates confusion. Data that is accessible by third-parties is also "available." The ALAC recommends that the GNSO delete the words "availability and" from Recommendation No. 1.
2. In Recommendation No. 2, the recommends deleting the last sentence altogether ("The wording of the notice provided by registrars should, to the extent feasible, be uniform"). To the contrary, the ALAC believes that registrants would be better served by having registrars make the disclosure in their own way, in their own languages, using whatever phrases they deem proper for their respective customer bases.
The ALAC applauds the GNSO and its task forces for making progress on such difficult policy issues and looks forward to participating in and commenting upon future policy initiatives.
AT-LARGE ADVISORY COMMITTEE