June 29, 2015
Under new proposed guidelines being considered by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), domain registrants with business sites will no longer be able to use domain WHOIS protection services.
While WHOIS privacy isn't available for Australian domains, it is for extensions such as .com, .net, .org, .info, .biz.
Under normal circumstances, running a WHOIS query on a domain for these extensions reveals information such as registrant name and identifier, contact name, contact address, email address and telephone number.
Privacy services (aka Proxy Services) allow a registrant to shield their contact information, which is replaced with that of the company providing the privacy service.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) strongly objects to the removal of this layer of privacy, stating the definition of "commercial" activity may be too broad and could include sites that solicit donations and run ads to help pay for the basic running costs of a web site. It also has other concerns.
"The ability to speak anonymously protects people with unpopular or marginalized opinions, allowing them to speak and be heard without fear of harm," says EFF. "It also protects whistleblowers who expose crime, waste, and corruption. That's why EFF opposes the new proposal to roll back anonymity."
EFF see the doing away with privacy services as being an attempt by some large companies "to discover the identities of website owners whom they want to accuse of copyright and trademark infringement, preferably without a court order."
A petition site concerning the issue, SaveDomainPrivacy, cites various examples of how removal of these services could have a serious impact - such as women's shelters that need to keep their physical location private.
SaveDomainPrivacy says while it acknowledges domain privacy shouldn't be afforded to criminals, these services are no more suspicious than acquiring an unlisted telephone number for millions of legitimate users - and some of the changes would result in all users being treated the same; regardless of their intent.
The removal of private registration services isn't a done deal. ICANN is accepting public comment on the proposed changes until July 7, 2015.
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