U.S. Govt’s NTIA Has Preservation of WHOIS As Priority With Concerns It May Go Dark

Preserving WHOIS has become of the 2 main priorities internationally for the U.S. government’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration with fears the service may go “dark and become a relic of the Internet's history.”

In a speech to the State of the Net 2018 conference this week, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information at the NTIA David Redl said it “has become one of NTIA's most pressing issues related to ICANN over the last several months.” Redl is concerned that there are some that want to take advantage of the upcoming E.U.’s GDPR and “erect barriers to the quickly and easily accessible WHOIS information. Some have even argued that the service must go dark, and become a relic of the Internet's history.”

WHOIS service Redl noted “is an incredibly valuable tool for governments, businesses, intellectual property rights holders, and individual Internet users around the world. Put simply, WHOIS is a service that provides easily accessible information about the entities that purchase and manage domain names.”

“This information is often the starting point for law enforcement agencies when investigating malicious online activity, and for private-sector and government actors seeking to protect critical systems from dangerous cyberattacks, which are growing more frequent all the time. I mentioned our work on botnets -we know that those on the front lines of botnet mitigation rely on WHOIS information to do their work effectively.”

Redl goes on to explain how “WHOIS information is also valuable for combatting infringement and misuse of intellectual property, and for savvy consumers looking to ensure that the website they're visiting is legitimate. This is a simple service, but it's a cornerstone of trust and accountability for the Internet.”

But Redl and the U.S. government are concerned that WHOIS is under threat due to the upcoming European Union's General Data Protection Regulation – or GDPR. Redl thinks the “essential character [of WHOIS] has been threatened.”

In response to the GDPR, “ICANN initiated a process to assess how this rule could affect WHOIS, given that it includes limited personal information about individuals with registered domains.”

Redl gives “the facts” in his speech from his point of view: “the text of the GDPR balances the interests of cybersecurity, law enforcement, and consumer protection, and many European officials have noted that limited changes to the WHOIS would be necessary to achieve GDPR compliance. Still, there are some who are trying to take advantage of the situation by arguing that we should erect barriers to the quickly and easily accessible WHOIS information. Some have even argued that the service must go dark, and become a relic of the Internet's history.”

Redl concludes by saying he “would like to be clear — the WHOIS service can, and should, retain its essential character while complying with national privacy laws, including the GDPR. It is in the interests of all Internet stakeholders that it does. And for anyone here in the U.S. who may be persuaded by arguments calling for drastic change, please know that the U.S. government expects this information to continue to be made easily available through the WHOIS service.”

But Redl believes that while “WHOIS has been under constant review and the subject of debate for years, … its essential character has not changed much since its inception in the early '80s. This is for a good reason – its utility remains critically important to those who rely upon it.

By the way, for those interested, the second priority area outlined in Redl’s speech was “making preparations for the International Telecommunication Union's treaty-making conference – the ITU Plenipotentiary – scheduled for October.”