16/01/2014

Nominet "knee jerk" reaction to Lord Macdonald QC

Nominet are the domain registry for .uk (i.e. all domains ending in the UK suffix), which is a Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) - as an aside it should really be .gb but companies such as Demon Internet broke that it in the early 90's.

Nominet have generally been very sensible in the past when it comes to domain registration policy and other matters relating to the UK domain space.

Now Lord Macdonald QC has published (PDF) a "Review of .uk Registration Policy" and made some recommendations which Nominet have now adopted.

The summary of the report is this: -

  • Nominet should remain an open registry. Amongst other reasons set out in the body of this Review, this is because the market in domain names requires a speedy and efficient registration process and because the screening technology currently available is blunt and incapable of judging context. In circumstances where Nominet registers between 150,000-200,000 new domain names every month, this inevitably means that any pre-registration scrutiny of applications will throw up unmanageable numbers of false positives, slowing down registrations to no purpose and to a point that is likely to become commercially unviable.
  • Nominet should consider instituting a system of post-registration screening, to be conducted within 48 hours of registration, for domain names that appear to signal sex crime content, or to amount in themselves to sex crimes. Where examples in this category are discovered, they should be reported to the police and suspended or de-registered. This process, in so far as it is designed to detect grave criminality, is plainly consistent with an open registration policy.
  • Nominet should restrict post registration scrutiny to domain names in the serious sex crime category. This is because the relevant screening terms for sex crime are highly specific and have a stronger chance of identifying true positives. Post-registration screening for other forms of criminality will inevitably rely on very general terms that are bound to throw up unmanageable numbers of false positives.
  • Nominet, which is a private company, should have no role in policing questions of taste or offensiveness on the Internet. It is not set up, trained or by culture competent to act as Internet censor, in contrast to identifying possible examples of criminality for onward reporting to the police. Furthermore, there are no objective, generally accepted standards of taste that could guide Nominet in undertaking such a role. This means that any decision- making on its part would risk uncertainty and inconsistency, which are highly undesirable ingredients where the restriction of free expression rights is concerned. Nominet would not have public confidence as censor, and it should not be expected to assume such a role in circumstances where government and police are content not to act.
  • Where domain names that are alleged to signal criminal content, or to amount to crimes in themselves, or to be attached to criminal content, are brought to Nominet’s attention, Nominet should, if it agrees that they might fall into any of those categories, refer these cases to the police for further action. In consultation with the police, this could include suspension or de-registration. It is only in these circumstances that Nominet, which is not a content provider, should involve itself in the examination of website content for any regulatory purpose.
  • Nominet should amend its terms and conditions to make it clear that any registration of a domain name that signals criminal content, or amounts in itself to a crime, will constitute a breach of Nominet’s terms of business, and is liable to be reported to the police and suspended or de-registered.

This all sounds very reasonable at face value, however this can lead to lots of ambiguities ... as Adrian Kennard points out in his well written blog piece ... so someone registering therapist.co.uk can fall foul of these recommendations as it may be interpreted as TheRapist.co.uk which is a sex crime.

A registrant could quite happily register murderwhoever.co.uk as this is NOT a sex crime.

It's also quite easy to circumvent as Nominet will only check the top level domain, so (again thanks to Mr Kennard) children.co.uk can be registered with no problem, and then the registrant can just use a sub-domain like f*ck.children.co.uk which Nominet have NO control over.

The law is an ass and this is a good example where it can rapidly lead to a horrible mess.