International police have called for stricter rules on domain name registration, to help them track down online crooks, warning the industry that if it does not self-regulate, governments could legislate.
The changes, which are still under discussion, would place more onerous requirements on ICANN-accredited domain name registrars, and would likely lead to an increase in the price of domains.
Here in Brussels at the 38th public meeting of ICANN, police from four agencies said that registrars need to crack down on criminals registering domains with phoney contact info.
Law enforcement has long argued that weaknesses in the domain name industry allow criminals such as fraudsters and child abusers to remain anonymous and evade the law.
Paul Hoare of the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency said: "We believe that the industry needs mandatory minimum standards, because otherwise the good practices that some registries and registrars have only displace criminals to those with less strict regimes and less strict audits."
Among over a dozen proposals put forward by law enforcement is a provision that would require registrars to collect the IP address and HTTP headers of users at the time of registration.
Registrars would also have to validate billing and contact information, use CAPTCHAs to verify that domains are not being registered by bots, and maintain a list of fraudulent user IP addresses.
Robert Flaim of the FBI said that law enforcement agencies from a dozen or more countries back the changes, which come as part of a broader overhaul of ICANN's Registrar Accreditation Agreement.
"We're seeing massive criminality that's costing hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. "This is coming from botnets, phishing, fast flux, child pornography, and even national security matters."
The changes would also water down Whois privacy protection offerings – services in which registrars act as a proxy for the registrant, placing their own contact details in the publicly accessible Whois database.
Law enforcement said that while the RAA should not "explicitly condone or encourage" privacy services, it should introduce a separate accreditation agreement to regulate and vet them.
Proxy services would be obliged to hand over the true registrant's contact details to law enforcement when there was evidence of criminality.
Hoare said that the proposals were not anti-privacy.
"The availability of privacy and proxy registration is intrinsically built into these amendments," he said. "Certain individuals very much need privacy, and we respect that. But ... law enforcement with due process should be able to trace the proxies."
Domain registrars themselves, while eager to help, appear reluctant to embrace potentially expensive new processes that would eat into their already razor-thin margins.
Mason Cole of Moniker said that "registrars in the aggregate are more than happy to cooperate" but added "it is important for us to be able to rely on a reasonable environment for us to provide products and services to our customers".
The law enforcement proposals, along with dozens of others, will now have to run the gauntlet of ICANN's policy-making process before they become enforceable.
But SOCA's Hoare warned that the domain name industry has a finite and rapidly shrinking window of opportunity to sort itself out "before governments inevitably regulate or legislate". ®