Comments submitted on the draft policy promulgated by NOMINET, UK: “Domain Names used in connection with criminal activity”
I would like to welcome NOMINET’s initiative in recommending and seeking to draft policy related to ‘Domain Names used in connection with criminal activity’. In the current Internet environment such policies are necessary to protect consumers and the associated public from any form of criminal activities that are conducted through the registration of domain names. In particular, criminal activities relating to financial crimes, such as phising, or those targeting children constitute a plague to the Internet’s ecosystem.
To this end, such an initiative is a very important step towards a more secure Domain Name System (DNS) and the Internet. However, it is also important that any such policies adhere to principles of proportionality and due process. The fact that NOMINET remains committed to the protection of free speech and political expression is a very positive step; but at the same time, more work is necessary in ensuring that appropriate rules are in place to safeguard those principles.
One thing that should be made very clear is that NOMINET should not engage in determination of criminal conduct, but should act as the agent assisting in enforcing decisions that are taken in other fora. It is important that an independent panel is established that will be responsible for making determinations regarding the criminal conduct that domain name registrants engage in and is promoted through domain name registrations. NOMINET should not act solely on advice received from public law enforcement agencies. The latter can operate as the agents flagging the potential criminal activity, but any final determination should ultimately rest on the expertise, impartiality and judicious authority of an independent panel.
Moreover, an additional value deriving from having an independent panel relates to the complexity of domain names. Domain names are multifaceted articles and, in many instances, one cannot make final determinations on the basis of their content. For example, experience has shown that domain names may host content, which is both legal and illegal. It is important, therefore, that any policy that is in place is in the position to distinguish and differentiate between illegal and legal material hosted under one domain name. In such instances, the role of the independent panel will be to advise the registrant of the illegal content hosted on his/her domain name and request for immediate amendments. In cases like this, suspension of the entire domain name should be the last resort.
Finally, I would strongly encourage the implementation of an appellate mechanism within this policy. It is pertinent that for any such disputes, an appeals process is available to registrants. Considering the international nature of domain names and the jurisdictional issues that the Internet has generated, registrants are not prima facie aware that their domain name registrations engage and/or encourage criminal activities. Subsequently, an appeal process will provide registrants with the opportunity to explain themselves and amend the domain name or the criminal part thereof. Needless to say that an appellate machine contributes to a more robust, balanced and fair process and ensures that justice is appropriately served.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to submit.
Dr. Konstantinos Komaitis,
University of Strathclyde Law School,
Author of the book: “The Current State of Domain Name Regulation: domain names as second-class citizens in a mark-dominated world”.