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Re: [nc-whois] some basic remarks

On 2002-09-04 09:17:12 -0400, Steve Metalitz wrote:

>There is a strong general public interest in maintaining  
>transparency and accountability on the Internet, and publicly  
>accessible Whois helps to do that.  

What I'm trying to do is to look at the details of that public  
interest, and to ask how that public interest can best be served -  
in particular when there may be other kinds of public interest which 
point into a different direction.

>Of course it would do that job better if it were more accurate,  
>and of course it is not the only mechanism for pursuing this goal. 
>But it is hard to argue that, with the growth of e-commerce, the  
>goals of transparency and accountability are LESS important today  
>than they were "when 'home page' was spelled ~/.plan" -- whatever  
>that means.  

There was a time when you could easily find out who was logged onto  
a multi-user system (and possibly even what commands they were  
running there).  The command (and service) to do that was called  
"finger".  On Unix systems, the file .plan in the user's home  
directory was (in addition to the other information) displayed to  
those who would "finger" a given user - presumably, it was intended  
to contain the user's calendar, but it was used for much of the  
stuff you'll find on a personal home page today.  A whole lot of 
transparency - still, today it's something which about everyone 
would consider an invasion of privacy, so the service isn't too 
common any more.  At the time, it was extremely nice to have, and 
not really considered a problem.

Anyway, I'd welcome it very much if we could get away from  
bumper-sticker "arguments" like "transparency is good for you" and  
"WHOIS is important", and instead start to at least take some of the 
more fundamental questions into account.

>I seem to recall that we spent most of the last year analyzing, in 
>excruciating detail, the results of an online survey in which  
>3000+ people told us what they use Whois for and why it was  

Think about the answers we got.  Was this "important", or was it  
"nice to have"?  Was it "it's cool, man", or was it "must be  
imposed on every registrar and registrant"?

>As I recall, the single purpose provided most often was "to find  
>out the identity of a person or organization who is responsible  
>for a domain name or web site." Intellectual property and consumer 
>protection, which overlap substantially with the first category,  
>were also commonly cited.  

What do these purposes mean?  Do they mean that someone is going to  
be sued, or that some authority is going to step in?  In that case, 
I'd agree that there is need for a database from which this 
information can be gotten for this purpose.  Or does it mean that 
people just want to get a sense of what's going on?  In that case, 
it's not at all obvious that WHOIS is the right tool to get the 
information which is being sought.

>The majority of respondents in nearly every category cited one of  
>these two purposes (identity or consumer/IP) as their main reason  
>for using Whois.  But I guess John Q. Public did not respond to  
>our survey, so we can now feel free to ignore it.  After all, we  
>are smarter than all those other people put together -- aren't we?

Correct me if I'm wrong - but until now, I was under the impression  
that ICANN policy-making is _not_ being delegated to  
non-representative, self-selected, web-based surveys with questions  
which may be hard to understand for respondents.  The survey can  
give pointers.  It can help to identify concerns.  However, it  
cannot replace careful deliberation of the interests at stake.

If all we are doing is to say "from the survey, this and that is  
desirable for many, but further deliberation [i.e., actual  
policy-development process, GAC advice, whatever] is needed", then 
we don't get into the business of actual deliberations.

However, if we are saying "this and that policy should be adopted",  
and if we possibly even attempt to produce consensus reports, then  
we'll have to go through all the discussion.  And this discussion  
can't be replaced by just pointing to the survey.

Thomas Roessler                        <roessler@does-not-exist.org>

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