Whois reform: ICANN says let's run more tests

You know, we shouldn't rush into anything


ICANN 2007 Los Angeles Quick, people: what takes seven years? Biblical plagues? Itches?

If you guessed an ICANN policy development process - that's a PDP to you, luddite - you are correct. ICANN today officially cut off the oxygen to its Whois reform PDP after seven years in favor of... well, no one's quite sure, yet. Something must have happened - after all, we're not hanging out at LAX for the charming scenery and the cool jumbos.

Beating that moribund horse

This is the 23rd consecutive meeting that ICANN has had the Whois privacy debate on its official agenda and yet, somehow, the Whois database lurks stubbornly out there much in the fashion it always has.

The scope of the debate about the Whois database - personal privacy rights versus corporate profits and law enforcement interests - hasn't changed either. The Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) - bit of a misnomer, since it represents only owners of intellectual property, not consumers - fired the first salvo across the bow on Monday at the IPC Whois Informational Briefing.

The briefing allowed the IPC to present its usual arguments about the importance of the Whois database to law enforcement efforts and consumer protection - and, oh yeah, it's cheaper for corporations and industry groups like the RIAA to track down real or imagined troublemakers.

One of the main thrusts of this intense lobbying effort has been to emphasize the importance of Whois information to law enforcement, since the IPC is well aware of the low esteem in which much of the public holds its paymasters.

To this end, they trotted out a real-life FBI agent to testify to the importance of Whois to his investigative work, and to that of private parties. Most investigations into phishing, for example, are conducted by private parties, rather than law enforcement, and a tiered access system as some have proposed would make it significantly more difficult for private parties to pursue phishers.

One can debate the extent to which private parties should engage in law enforcement, but there is no doubt that a more restricted Whois database will cost money. Of course, the Whois database is no law enforcement panacea, and at times creates more problems than it solves - considerable amounts of spam have been traced to the Whois database as well. There are also inaccuracies, although forged Whois information may sometimes lead at least to the innocent victims.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to go straight to the offending IP address, we asked?

Well, they frequently switch IP addresses, came the response - although it seems that anyone clever enough to continually switch IP addresses would be unlikely to leave much helpful information in the Whois database.

The argument that subpoenas interfere with the need to move quickly in response to phishing attacks is more troubling, particularly in light of the alarming speed with which the FBI is able to get information from the telecoms these days. We don't suspend established constitutional procedure because a burglar might commit another burglary before he (or she) gets caught.

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