During the last week of June, the ICANN community convened in Panamá City, Panamá for the ICANN 62 Policy Forum. While a traditionally shorter and smaller meeting, this meeting focused on the work on surrounding the interpretation and implementation of ICANN’s Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data and the process for developing a long-term solution for access to non-public registration data. Following are the highlights from the topics discussed at ICANN 62:
Registration Data & the GNSO’s Expedited Policy Development Process
Over the course of the meeting, the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GSNO), the branch of ICANN responsible for creating policy for generic top-level domains (gTLDs), focused its attention on the Expedited Policy Development Process (EPDP) on the Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data. By design, the Temporary Specification must be renewed every 90 days by the ICANN Board and can only remain in effect and enforceable for a maximum of one year. The EPDP will develop policies that will either replace the Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data or make it permanent. Thus, these meetings held a sense of urgency, as the deadline of May 24, 2019 to replace the Temporary Specification is fast approaching, and the future of WHOIS and third-party access to non-public WHOIS data depends on effectively developing a permanent policy before then. The Working Group will need to move quickly as it plans to have its Initial Report published for public comment in advance of ICANN 63 in October and its Final Report in January 2019.
Accreditation and Access to Registration Data by Third Parties
While the requirements for registries and registrars regarding gTLD registration data will be developed through the EPDP, it has not yet been determined when or how quickly policies to address access to non-public WHOIS information will be addressed. In the interim, brand owners still are able to request non-public WHOIS information from registries and registrars, contact registrants, and file domain disputes for infringing domains. However, these processes are slower and now more complex prior to the implementation of the Temporary Specification.
Given that no accreditation program is in place, registries and registrars are reviewing and responding to requests for access to non-public WHOIS information on an ad hoc basis. At ICANN 62, Tucows, who has been a leader in the space, held a session to explain their planned accreditation program and their experience to date in Panamá. Tucows’ planned accreditation program will provide tiered access to WHOIS information to varying degrees for domains under their management to Law Enforcement Agencies (which will get the widest range of access), Commercial Litigators, and Cybersecurity Researchers.
As ICANN proceeds with the EPDP and attempts to sort out accreditation within that, third party access in the interim will likely occur in a more fragmented manner. In many cases, access to non-public registrant information will likely be reviewed and manually provided by registries and registrars and we may see some registrars following Tucows’ lead and implementing their own accreditation programs. For the time being, brands will need to be more proactive and allow for more time in their efforts to identify registrants of problematic domain names if they do not want to proceed with automatically filling a domain dispute.
New gTLDs and the Promised Second Round
While the key focus of ICANN 62 was the Temporary Specification and the GDPR’s impact on WHOIS access, work continues on the reviews of the current gTLD round and looking ahead to a second application round, including the contentious issue of what protections should be offered for geographic names in new gTLDs. Following the conclusion of ICANN 62, the Subsequent Procedures Working Group’s Initial Report on Overarching Issues and Work Tracks 1-4 was published for public comment. The report contains recommendations regarding ICANN’s practices surrounding the application process for new gTLDs and will have implications for brands seeking to apply in the next round.
Though a second round of new gTLDs is still promised, it is not expected to occur until 2021 at the earliest, assuming all of the requisite reviews and necessary implementation work occurs on schedule.
While the conclusion of ICANN 62 did not bring about any great changes in policy or concrete solutions to the WHOIS problem, the work that occurred during the week will play an important role in the upcoming policy changes. FairWinds does not expect the conversations surrounding WHOIS to see quick resolution, but expect many of them to remain contentious and top of mind through 2019.