The venerable WHOIS database has been under assault for the last several years by critics who contend that the names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers that it contains make it ripe for harvesting by scammers, spammers, and identity thieves, and they have pushed for the information to be stripped down or removed. At a meeting today in California, though, ICANN decided that what's really needed isn't action, but more studies.
WHOIS is a moderately helpful database of domain owners. It's populated with plenty of bogus entries, of course, and incomplete entries, and even the contact information of domain-by-proxy services. Still, it's the first stop for anyone from scammers to cops when they want to find out who owns a certain domain.
But is putting personal contact information into a public database like WHOIS such a good idea? Critics say no, especially since the information is required (though not often verified).
ICANN's Generic Names Supporting Organization has been dealing with the issue since June 2005, when it first convened a WHOIS task force to see if there were better ways of handling the WHOIS data. The group completed its work in March of this year, and the GNSO has been wrestling with the issue ever since.
Several options were on the table were put before ICANN at this week's meeting. One would allow people to list a third party (usually the domain registrar) as the contact without needing to use a domains-by-proxy service. Police or others who need access to the information could obtain it from this third party. Other provisions could have made WHOIS compliance optional, which in practice would probably destroy much of the system's usefulness.
Instead, ICANN adopted another plan and decided to keep studying the issue. That means the status quo is safe for now and WHOIS information is still available to anyone who wants it. This did not appease critics.
Ross Rader, who sits on the GNSO, told the AP, "We've had seven years of study on this issue… what has not been answered is what are the specific questions we want answers to. From my perspective, further, broad, open study is just a way for [opponents] to say you don't have enough votes to change the status quo."