Thursday, October 13, 2011 : Surely a move to revoke a domain registration should first receive judicial scrutiny?
 
Another row over the freedom and security of international domain names could be building in the United States, where a report in Ars Technica has detailed US moves that could result in the revocation of domain registrations without first requiring the benefit of judicial scrutiny.
 
At the centre of the growing furore is the US supervisor for .com and .net domains, Verisign, which has apparently applied to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for the authority to revoke website registrations at the request of US law enforcement officials…with or without a court order.
 
Arguing that its anti-abuse strategy would permit "the denial, cancellation or transfer” of domains based on “laws, government rules or requirements, requests of law enforcement or other governmental or quasi-governmental agency, or any dispute resolution process” in addition to the more traditional approach of judicial oversight first, Verisign is effectively giving enforcement authorities carte blanche over the domains it supervises, say critics of the move.
 
The Ars Technica article goes on to discuss the serious implications of placing too much unsupervised (in a judicial sense) power into the hands of private companies and enforcement officials.
 
Although Verisign has undertaken to introduce a communication channel and process for any disputes arising from the use of such untrammelled power, it has not been forthcoming with details on this proposed appeal process so that it can be scrutinised and debated.
 
That has angered the American Civil Liberties Union, which is suggesting that Verisign could be throwing domain owners under the bus.
 
“The default shouldn’t be ‘take down first,’" an ACLU spokesman told Ars Technica. "Any time the government is involved in seizing websites, that raises serious First Amendment issues. It doesn’t matter if it’s a private company pushing the button.”
 
Electronic Frontier Foundation analyst Rebecca Jeschke agreed, calling Verisign’s plan “an extraordinarily bad idea. We’ve already seen how problematic domain seizures are through the Immigration and Customs Enforcement shutdowns … If you’re going to do something as drastic as taking a whole site offline, you at least need some meaningful court review.”