A group of volunteers has just released a detailed report for ICANN on one of the most troubled, debated, and close-to-useless systems of Internet accountability: Whois.
Whois, a simple protocol built into the first Internet architectures in the early 80s, allows free and public query of information on domain name ownership. When you type in a search for a new domain, it’s the Whois database that tells you whether someone’s already registered that domain. It can also tell you who owns or is responsible for a particular Website, a useful tool if you’re trying to fix a problem.
What’s great about this report is its practicality. It resists descending into the quasi-religious arguments for and against the existence of Whois. Instead, it points to problems, those responsible for them, and some possible ways out. Many of the problems could have been solved previously, and can in the future, with proper leadership and enforcement of policies already written and incorporated into the contracts of companies that sell domain registrations.
Most important is that the report is timely. Before long, more than 2,000 new top-level domains — limited so far to about 20 from well-known .com, .org, .net, to lesser-known cousins, .biz, .pro, .travel — will be integrated into the Internet. We cannot afford to allow that meta-infrastructure to take shape the way the current Whois policy has, which in retrospect looks like a combination of bribes, paper clips, tape, and gum. Consider the following: