If you’ve ever registered a domain name, you’ve probably stumbled across WHOIS, a series of databases that contains basic information on whoever registered a particular domain name. While WHOIS makes this information public by default, it’s long been possible to hide behind a proxy — something the entertainment industry is hellbent on changing.
The benefits of using a WHOIS proxy should be evident to anyone who’s ever come across the nasty side of Twitter. WHOIS makes it easy to dox anyone who gets on the wrong side of 4chan trolls, so using a proxy to register a domain name is a perfectly sensible precaution. If someone really needs to get in touch — say, to issue a DMCA notice — the proxy service can be legally obliged to pass a message on, or surrender a registrant’s information (depending on the laws of a particular country).
But that’s not enough for the entertainment industry. Under the murky umbrella of the “Coalition for Online Accountability”, they’re petitioning ICANN, the organization that manages WHOIS data. They claim that proxy services are too slow to act, and any website registered for commercial purposes should be obliged to make its WHOIS records public.
That would be awful news for internet privacy. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation — which is strongly against the proposal — points out, any website that publishes ads could arguably be considered commercial. Putting the phone numbers and addresses of millions of internet users out there would be a huge blow to the internet’s cornerstones of privacy and anonymity — not to mention make it easier to dox people, which really doesn’t need to happen.
Even worse, it’s not like this would serve any real purpose in combating piracy, which is the entertainment lobby’s key argument. WHOIS data is submitted by users and not really verified, meaning that it’s absurdly easy to lie — something you’d probably be inclined to do if you were starting The Pirate Bay 2.0. In all likelihood, then, making WHOIS data public would negatively impact the internet’s most vulnerable citizens, whilst doing jack shit in the crusade against piracy.
ICANN is still accepting public comment on the matter: you can add your voice to thousands of others by writing to email@example.com.