[comments-whois] WHOIS: Process and Substance
The ICANN Reform Process, triggered by Stewart Lynn's paper "ICANN - The
Case for Reform" stated: "Undue focus on process to the exclusion of
substance and effectiveness is the second major problem facing ICANN."
There was a lot of process relating to WHOIS: a Names Council WHOIS
Committee handed over its work to a Names Council WHOIS Task Force
already in April 2001. The ICANN Ghana meetings in March 2002 received
information about a broad survey which had received more than 3000
responses - 2750 in English, and about 50 each in French, Japanese,
Russian, and Spanish - a good example of the internationality of ICANN
processes. At the Bucharest ICANN meetings in June 2002 a Final Report
on this survey was presented. The Shanghai meeting in October 2002 saw a
Powerpoint presentation about the "WHOIS Task Force Interim Report," the
full text being on the ICANN web site.
The report shows in much detail the tremendous work which went into the
effort to improve the usability of data of domain holders. Two special
concerns are addressed throughout: accuracy, as well as uniformity and
consistency of the data held in different data bases as a precondition
to searchability and cross-registry WHOIS services. And secondly:
concerns about marketing users and bulk access. The first concern
resulted in elaborate and expensive to implement recommendations.
The current bulk access provisions allow the sale of customer
information for up to US$ 10,000 per year, under the condition that the
third party agrees not to use the data for unsolicited mass marketing,
and not to resell or to redistribute the data. The surveys suggest also
that the majority of respondents are worried how WHOIS information will
continue to be kept protected, so that it cannot be used for unsolicited
The final section of the presentation asked how to "weigh the legitimate
interests of bulk access to WHOIS against the preferences expressed by
registrants," and it mentions "numerous legitimate uses being served by
bulk access" (without spelling them out), as well as again the fact that
the survey showed clear "objections to bulk access use for marketing
So far the PROCESS. I had expected that now the SUBSTANCE would come at
the end: Why would someone buy these data for up to $10,000 if not for
business purposes? The presentation seems to hint at the answer: the
provisions of access "should be evaluated to determine whether the
following is feasible," that is, to limit access to "those who are able
to articulate a legitimate need, 'legitimate' still to be developed."
It is surprising that after so much technical and administrative process
discussed an answer to the substantial question - what is legitimate
use, so that the privacy of registrants data is protected - is still to
Or could this have to be expected anyway, as - according to Stewart
Lynn's vision - "the driving notion today, with the renewed focus
precipitated by the events of 9/11, must be effectiveness."
I walked away from the Shanghai presentation with the question: Is the
alternative really "substance or process," or is it "legitimacy or
effectiveness"? An effectiveness to serve which goals?
I share these considerations together with a plea to play substantial
attention to the protection of the registrants. It will become more and
more difficult, in the structures envisioned by the ICANN Board for the
next year until a new report is due to the US Department of Commerce, to
see how this voice, the voice of the end-users, of the non-commercials
and of the members-at-large, can be articulated in a way that it is not
relegated to the end of long processes, and then it is still to be
clarified what is legitimate.
Open Forum of Cambodia
Member of the Non-Commercial Domain Name Holders Constituency