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Comment on Purpose of WHOIS

  • To: whois-comments@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: Comment on Purpose of WHOIS
  • From: Michael Geist <mgeist@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 8 Feb 2006 17:50:49 -0500

I am a law professor at the University of Ottawa specializing in Internet law. I sit on the board of directors of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), which manages the dot-ca domain, as well as the Public Interest Registry's Global Advisory Council. I offer these comments in my personal capacity and not on behalf of the University of Ottawa, CIRA, or PIR.

Having worked through WHOIS issues as both the ccTLD and gTLD level, I strongly support the first formulation which I think rightly accounts for key issues such as data protection and free speech.

I think it is critical to ensure that the WHOIS policy properly accounts for data protection laws. In Canada, national privacy legislation prohibits the mandatory disclosure of personal information not strictly necessary to provide the service in question. In a WHOIS context, that legislative requirement means that registrations that include personal information (as opposed to corporate registrations) should only require that information strictly necessary to provide the service. Although it may be necessary to collect personal information for billing purposes, there is no need to disclose such information to the broader Internet community. A WHOIS policy that meets the need of the global community must place legal obligations such as data protection laws within its purpose.

Moreover, I believe that it is essential that the WHOIS not create a chilling effect on Internet speech by mandating the disclosure of personal information in connection with criticism or whistleblower sites. Given the need to provide accurate information, full disclosure of personal information can clearly have a negative impact on freedom of speech on the Internet. The WHOIS policy's purpose should account for these concerns.

I must also note that I find the second formulation particularly problematic with regard to the free speech concerns. By extending the purpose to legal issues associated with the use of a domain name, it clearly extends the WHOIS policy well beyond ICANN's mandate. Further, it would disturbingly provide assistance to governments or other parties seeking to suppress free speech without appropriate judicial oversight.

I strongly urge the task force to adopt the first formulation and to reject the second formulation.

Michael Geist
Ottawa, ON, Canada
Professor Michael A. Geist
Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law
University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law
57 Louis Pasteur St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 6N5
Tel: 613-562-5800, x3319     Fax: 613-562-5124
mgeist@xxxxxxxxx              http://www.michaelgeist.ca

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