Dear Friends and Colleagues:
WHOIS is a topic of much interest to the ICANN community. The future path for WHOIS service requires the resolution of numerous important issues, some of which fall within ICANN’s purview, but many of which may arise from statutory or regulatory provisions of national law that have no direct relationship with ICANN’s technical coordination mission, but that may have implications for ICANN policies. Despite these challenges, ICANN will continue to encourage and facilitate the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that the ICANN community and WHOIS stakeholders brought to ICANN’s WHOIS workshop in Montreal. To advance work on WHOIS in a coordinated and cooperative manner, ICANN will: support key fact-finding and analysis; promote cross-constituency and WHOIS stakeholder dialogues, including a WHOIS workshop in Carthage in October 2003; and establish a “President’s Committee on WHOIS,” to support the work of ICANN’s community.
Before providing details on these steps to be taken, however, it is important to ensure a common understanding of the context of ICANN’s WHOIS work.
Updating and Establishing ICANN WHOIS Policy
To update and establish ICANN WHOIS policy, many critical issues need to be addressed. Some of these arise from the need to update a twenty-year-old WHOIS system; other issues are related to ICANN WHOIS policy and principles; and many are the result of the growth of the Internet, associated dependencies by users of WHOIS, and the interest of national governments in WHOIS information.
In recent months, ICANN has made progress in addressing long-standing concerns about the WHOIS services by which users of the Internet may obtain information on the registrants of domain names and related information about holders of Internet protocol (IP) addresses. After nearly two years of work, ICANN’s Domain Name Supporting Organization (DNSO) (now the Generic Names Supporting Organization, GNSO) WHOIS Task Force made recommendations concerning bulk access to and accuracy of WHOIS information. These recommendations were developed as a consensus policy by the GNSO, adopted by the ICANN Board on 27 March 2003, and are in the process of being implemented.
One of these recommendations, the “WHOIS data reminder policy” (WDRP), was recently put into practice. It calls for ICANN-accredited registrars to provide domain-name registrants with an annual listing of their WHOIS data and to remind registrants of the need to correct inaccurate or out-of-date information. Registrars have agreed in their accreditation agreements with ICANN to comply with the WDRP.
Subsequently, a successful WHOIS workshop was organized and held during the Montreal ICANN meeting in June 2003 to examine a myriad of outstanding WHOIS issues. The workshop featured presentations from subject experts on WHOIS, and addressed such issues as privacy, consumer protection, and law enforcement access. This event engendered productive discussions among the major constituency groups and WHOIS stakeholders that will help move us toward a future WHOIS environment that meets the expectations of the ICANN community, the broader Internet community, and national governments.
As I stated at the Montreal workshop, advancing WHOIS will require further cross-constituency collaboration and bottom-up policy development. I asked groups to come together and pursue joint efforts, rather than take the “silo approach” of one constituency developing recommendations in isolation. In response, members of ICANN’s community have offered suggestions on how to advance ICANN’s WHOIS work in a collaborative manner. ICANN must continue to build a base of WHOIS good practice, and address policy matters that need attention, to ensure that the expectations of the community for accurate and accessible WHOIS data are met with due regard for registrant privacy.
Members of the community and ICANN staff are undertaking several data gathering and analysis projects intended as prepatory work that will contribute to the development of "best practice" models for WHOIS in a bottom-up, consensus development process. Several parallel efforts are, or soon will be, underway and interested individuals and organizations are encouraged to contribute:
1) CRISP Review. The Internet Engineering Task Force’s (IETF’s) Cross-Registry Information Service Protocol (CRISP) Working Group will define a standard mechanism that can be used to support commonly required queries for domain registration information. Participation is encouraged. The CRISP protocol may, at a future date, be adopted and affect the services currently implemented in WHOIS. The CRISP Working Group is in the process of refining requirements (identifying the community of users, deciding on scope, identifying needs, and determining features), and has called for comments on the functional requirements statement contained in the IETF's draft request for comments (RFC) on the CRISP protocol. The GNSO Council, under the direction of Bruce Tonkin (GNSO Council Chair), will be launching such a review and is encouraging its constituencies and liaisons to participate.
2) WHOIS Data Element Review. With ICANN staff support, an analysis will be conducted on the existing uses of the registrant data elements currently captured as part of the domain name registration process. The intent is to determine whether all of the data elements now collected are necessary for current and foreseeable needs of the community, and if so, how they may be acquired with the greatest accuracy, least cost, and in compliance with applicable privacy, security, and stability considerations.
3) Domain Name Registrant Classification. At the Montreal workshop, there was discussion about whether it was feasible to distinguish different classes of domain name holders such that the WHOIS information collected from them, and made available to the community, could reflect differing types of use and potentially different privacy considerations. The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) WHOIS Working Group, chaired by Robin Layton (GAC’s US Accredited Representative), is investigating this possibility.
4) Best Practices Information. Another useful endeavor identified at the Montreal workshop, is the collection of current best practice information, especially with regard to privacy matters, from selected country code registries and registrars. Under the leadership of the GAC and the Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) (which is under formation), contributions to this data gathering effort are encouraged to help ensure that our WHOIS efforts benefit from the global community’s successes.
Carthage Workshop and President’s Committee on WHOIS
To help advance these efforts and encourage coordination and collaboration, two activities are planned for ICANN’s Carthage meeting in late October. ICANN will sponsor a second WHOIS workshop focusing on identifying the priority WHOIS issues to be addressed by ICANN and discussing applicable “best practices." Participation is encouraged. Additional information will be available (here) in the near future.
Because WHOIS issues cut across many ICANN constituencies, a “President’s Committee on WHOIS” will be established to support coordination and collaboration in further fact-finding and analysis, and Supporting Organization development of draft policy and practice recommendations. The Committee will be broadly representative of ICANN constituencies interested in WHOIS issues, and comprised of knowledgeable individuals who are committed to understanding a broad range of views and working together to help prioritize WHOIS issues and move the community forward. Please send recommendations of individuals to serve on the Committee to Twomey@icann.org.
ICANN constituencies and WHOIS stakeholders are encouraged to participate in and support the activities outlined above. Your cooperation and collaboration are vital to creating a future WHOIS environment that meets the expectations of the ICANN community, the broader Internet community and national governments.