Nominet – judge and jury of the world wide web?

We, the world, are still finding our feet on the internet, or more accurately the world wide web. The www is a great place to be and at the same time full of pitfalls and nasties. Much like real, physical life really. I taught my kids not to take sweeties from strangers – that applies on or offline.  In recent years I’ve added “don’t click on links you aren’t sure of” and probably a few other words of advice specific to tinterweb.

That’s a piece of wisdom relating to the www that had he but known it shows Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in action. Survival of the fittest and all that.

It isn’t just the consumer that is still trying to understand the landscape of the www. Government is, business is, as I said we all are.

The good folks at .uk registry Nominet are also trying to understand where they fit into all this. Nominet has come under scrutiny in recent years over its corporate governance. Nominet is after all responsible for a key part of the strategic infrastructure of UK plc. Looking after .uk is a very important job. This post is not all about Nominet’s corporate governance. I’m sure with all the eyes that have been gazing its way this is squeaky clean.

The one issue that we do have to consider though is that positioned as it is in the heart of the UK’s internet/www infrastructure Nominet is an easy target when it comes to people wanting to influence or affect that infrastructure.

The current case in point is a working group that “has brought together a crossspectrum of interested stakeholders who have worked through a consensus driven approach to develop a set of principle-based recommendations to the Board on the matter of dealing with domain names used in connection with criminal activity.

Nominet wants to work with law enforcement agencies to take down domains that appear to be involved in criminal activity where

  1. The nature of the alleged criminal activity creates a clear risk of “imminent serious harm” to an individual or individuals. “Imminent serious harm” is defined as urgent or on-going harm. This would include, but is not limited to, the following examples: phishing, fraud, the unlicensed sale of medicines or other regulated goods and services, and botnets; or,
  2. The domain is directly involved in the criminal distribution of counterfeit goods.

Now it is difficult for anyone to object to this. Nominet wants to do this is a fast and efficient manner – not in itself a problem either.

The problem lies in the fact that Nominet wants to do this without being in receipt of a court order – the process of obtaining which can be laborious. The proposal is that an authorised senior officer of a relevant Law Enforcement Agency will contact the registrar as a “trusted party” and declare that the suspension of a specific domain name is proportionate, necessary, and urgent, and that the agency is seeking suspension under the principle of last resort.

The issue is that here in the UK we have independent judges in place to decide on whether something is illegal or not and we don’t leave this decision to others. It is the same argument I have against the implementation of the Digital Economy Act notification system although I’m sure that no one is intending to compare “infringers” as defined by the DEAct with the “criminals” Nominet is seeking to thwart.

The Nominet draft proposals do provide for an appeals process but again this is highly redolent of the DEAct also with no defined structure or timescale.

Although this has surfaced before I’ve stayed relatively quiet on this one up until now but Nominet is looking to finalise its proposals on Friday so this does need mentioning.  I think the right answer here is along the lines I have previously discussed on this blog and that is to provide a judiciary that is agile and knowledgeable of the ways of new technology. If the judge can move quickly the all Nominet has to do is to provide a rapid response to that judge’s pronouncement and not to seek to do part of his job.

Published by Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of trefor.net, writer, poet, philosopherontap.com

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4 Comments

  1. Might be difficult to do rapid response if dinosaurs are involved. I think the key thing here is getting some tech savvy people working for the organisations who have to make these decisions so they can explain it all in simple terms to the judges et al. Easier said than done i guess. Keep an eye on it all tref.

  2. I completely forgot about all this, thanks for the reminder. Had no idea they were so close to finalising the proposal. It’s interesting to note that the documentation suggests that its scope could be increased in the future, which would no doubt have Rights Holders salivating as they already deem unlawful file sharing activity to be “criminal”.. even if it’s a civil offence.

  3. One of the best blog pieces I’ve read in a long while. Absolutely spot on Trefor which is the point I was making on the call we had on Friday on the same subject. Te process Nominet wishes to follow is in principle sound but not at the expense of not having a legal request to suspend or remove the domain.

  4. F*ckin’ remarkable things here. I’m very glad to see your post. Thanks a lot and i’m looking forward to contact you. Will you please drop me a e-mail?

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