The purpose of this task force is to determine what contractual changes (if any) are required to allow registrars and registries to protect domain name holder data from data mining for the purposes of marketing.
It sounds innocuous enough — nobody likes spam — but the restrictions being discussed reach further than marketers. Pushed by registrars who feel that WHOIS amounts to forced disclosure of their customer lists, the task force is seriously discussing closing off port 43’s straightforward access to WHOIS information, replacing it with GIF-based barriers or similar access restrictions.
Right now, anyone can either use registrars’ web-based interfaces, fire up a command-line client, or programmatically access data over port 43. If some interests on the WHOIS task force get their way, the latter two options will disappear for the ordinary researcher. That won’t necessarily increase privacy, however, because data resellers such as Thomson and Thomson, willing to pay $10,000 a year, will still be able to get it through contractually mandated “bulk access.” What it will mean is that academic researchers doing network studies or archiving and individuals facing challenges from intellectual property claimants will have a harder time gathering their data.
I’m sensitive to privacy concerns, and indeed believe there should be far less (or no) mandatory collection of data upon domain name registration, but I also favor equal access to what data is collected. I’m also an ALAC liaison to the task force, so I’m looking for other thoughts on the subject. Please leave comments or email.