“I think it is a viable threat,” said Alec French, counsel to Rep.
Howard Berman of California, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee
on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. Berman and the subcommittee’s
chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, have pressed ICANN to provide tighter whois
oversight. But, French said, “We really see no commitment on behalf of
ICANN to take this issue seriously.”
Berman, for instance, has
considered legislation to require ICANN to be more vigilant.
But the only provision the House has found acceptable is
one to add
up to seven years to the prison sentence of someone convicted of using false
whois information in another crime. The bill is pending in the Senate.
Congressional hearings have been held. Three
ICANN task forces have examined the issue since 2003 and solicited comments.
But journalism groups have been
largely silent. Some media groups, such as Time Warner and Viacom, have
spoken, primarily about tracking intellectual property violators. Ebay
noted an open
and accurate whois system helps it and its users ferret out fraud.
“There is strong, wide and deep support
for open whois,” French said. “Journalists
joining the group would be a worthwhile addition.”
Brian Steffens, executive director of the
National Newspaper Association, had a typical reaction: “Your note was the first I realized that was under
Deanna Sands, managing editor of the Omaha
World Herald and president of the Associated Press Managing Editors: “I think you’ve hit it; it just
fell under the radar.”
No one had brought it to the attention of
the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Executive Director Scott Bosley
said. But several
with other groups, he sent this message: “I believe we should weigh in.
It's an important issue and we need to figure out how to best get a message through
even after the comment period that has passed.”
Brant Houston, executive director of Investigative
Reporters and Editors, said he had heard about some problems getting accurate
information. But, he said, “I
think the concern about it dropped off somewhat after 9/11 when everyone wanted
to know who was running what Web site,” and it was felt that public interest
was enough to keep things open.
Without whois information, said Charles
Davis, freedom of information co-chairman for the Society of Professional
Journalists, “it could create lots and
lots of trouble for journalists” who increasingly deal with stories spread
by the Web and with the authenticity of Web sites. SPJ also has been silent on
The Wall Street Journal, citing information
from Name Intelligence Inc., recently reported that nearly 5 percent of
all new Web
site registrants with common
suffixes such as com, biz, net, org, info and us seek to
shield their contact information.
There have been 6.3 million new registrations overall so
far this year, the Journal said.
Sheila Owens, spokeswoman for the Newspaper
Association of America, said its head of legal affairs, Rene Milam, had
into the matter. “Her
immediate response is that this is a bad idea from both a legal and newsgathering
perspective,” Owens wrote in an e-mail. “She’s not sure if
NAA will weigh in or not.”
Houston said it’s an issue “we should, from what you are telling
me, probably bear down and get going on.”
The comment period closed in early July.
ICANN spokesman Kieran Baker said no action is expected before the group’s annual meeting in December.
Hope remains that journalists can get heard. “I think when journalists
are involved in writing a lot of stories about it, people tend to listen,” Houston
"It might just be that journalists don’t spend a whole lot of their lives
in that (technical) community,” Davis said. “I think if we had more
online presence, we’d be more alert to these things.”
"When you’ve got 12 (freedom of information) outrages a week,” he
said, “things that are longer-term policy matters can get by.”
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