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EWG Recommends a Replacement for WHOIS

9 June 2014

Jean-Francois Baril
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It is with great pleasure that I share with you the Final Report of the Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services (EWG). In it, the EWG proposes an unprecedented "paradigm shift" to a next generation Registration Directory Service (RDS).

The EWG, in its 166-page final report, unanimously recommends replacing today's problematic WHOIS model, which gives anonymous users universal access to generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) registration data that is too often inaccurate.

After 15-months of study, the EWG report recommends a new system that would continue to make basic data publicly available while making the rest accessible only to accredited requestors who identify themselves, state their purpose and agree to be held accountable for appropriate use of the data.

For over a decade, the WHOIS system has generated a deadlocked controversy within the ICANN community. While many agreed that the system needed dramatic improvement, there was little agreement on how a fix might best be achieved.

The Expert Working Group was formed by ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehadé at the request of the Board of Directors to envision a replacement for the current system.

The EWG started from the ground up by questioning fundamental assumptions about the purposes, uses, collection, maintenance and provision of registration data. The group considered for each stakeholder, their needs for data accuracy, access, and privacy, and possible approaches to effectively meet those needs.

The Final Report is not perfect. It includes 180 principles that were analyzed and thoroughly discussed and reflect numerous compromises made by all members. I am sure that there are EWG members who find disagreement with one or more principles or approaches as outlined in the Final Report. However, despite these differences, all of us agreed that the collective RDS model is preferred to today's WHOIS.   We are eager to share our perspectives online and in London to further advance the discussion within the ICANN community.

The new system is designed to tackle complex data privacy and degraded data quality challenges, while striking a difficult balance between access and accountability.

Before formulating our final report, the EWG analyzed 2600 pages of public comments, research surveys, and feasibility studies, many of which identified a range of deficiencies in WHOIS.

In our final report, the EWG abandons today's one-size-fits-all WHOIS in favor of purpose-driven access to validated data as a mechanism to improve privacy and accuracy of data, and the accountability of all stakeholders.

The system proposed by the group is aimed at:

  • Providing appropriate access to accurate, reliable, and uniform registration data.
  • Protecting the privacy of personal information.
  • Enabling a reliable mechanism for identifying, establishing and maintaining the ability to contact Registrants in order to guarantee accountability.
  • Supporting a framework to address issues involving Registrants including, but not limited to, consumer protection, investigation of cybercrime and intellectual property protection.
  • Providing an infrastructure to address appropriate law enforcement needs.

The final report of the Expert Working Group has been delivered to the ICANN CEO and Board and will now be considered by the community. The EWG will answer questions and discuss elements of its report during several sessions it is setting up during the ICANN50 meeting in London, 22-26 June.  

I hope that you will agree that, despite the complexity of this task and the many compromises that were necessary to balance divergent needs, the Final Report provides a solid foundation to help the ICANN community and the GNSO create a new global policy for gTLD directory services.

The Final Report from the Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services (EWG) can be accessed here [PDF, 5.12 MB].

Jean-Francois Baril