teaspoon icon Take Action to Save Domain Privacy

[Content Note: Harassment; privilege.]

Right now, anyone who has registered a domain name (e.g. "Shakesville.com") must provide personal information—including name, address, telephone number, and email—which is collected in a publicly searchable database called WHOIS. If you pay an extra fee, your registration information will be kept private, only accessible via subpoena.

But, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the international domain name authority) is currently considering a proposal [PDF] in which "domains used for commercial purposes might no longer be eligible to use proxy registration services." And what constitutes a "commercial" site is as broad as simply running ads, even if only to cover the basic costs of running a personal site.
Thousands of responses have already been received by ICANN on this topic from others who are concerned about how the proposed policy change will affect them. Amongst them is a message from one user who wrote:
I'm a single female and live alone. I don't want my personal address available to every pervert/troll/angered citizen that wants it after visiting my small website. Seemingly innocent topics, like vegan cooking, can spark outrage in certain individuals.
This change is being pushed by US entertainment companies, who told Congress in March that privacy for domain registration should be allowed only in "limited circumstances." These and other companies want new tools to discover the identities of website owners whom they want to accuse of copyright and trademark infringement, preferably without a court order. They don't need a new mechanism for this—subpoenas for discovery of the identities of website owners do regularly issue [PDF].

The limited value of this change is manifestly outweighed by the risks to website owners who will suffer a higher risk of harassment, intimidation and identity theft. The ability to speak anonymously protects people with unpopular or marginalized opinions, allowing them to speak and be heard without fear of harm. It also protects whistleblowers who expose crime, waste, and corruption.
WHOIS' default public database is a remnant of the early days of the internet, when it was being built by privileged people who thought it would be a great idea to be able to easily contact anyone behind another website, and never considered what it would mean for an open internet in which people, especially from marginalized populations, are routinely silenced via doxxing.

At this point, we should be considering changing the default to private, instead of charging people more money to maintain their privacy, not moving in the other direction and making more people vulnerable to harassment, threats, and stalking.

This proposal is terrifying for anyone who has an online presence and tends to attract the attention of determined harassers, and it could be the death knell for communities doing social justice work and/or communities run by anyone who is a member of a disproportionately targeted population: Women of any description, people of color, queer folks, trans* people, people who do fat and/or disability advocacy, etc.

We need to take action and make our voices heard in opposition to this proposal.

1. Sign the petition at savedomainprivacy.org. You can also use the phone and email tool of another coalition at respectourprivacy.com.

2. Until July 7th, send your comments by email to comments-ppsai-initial-05may15@icann.org.

If you prefer to send an email, and would like a boilerplate, the text of the petition can help get you started with the basic points.

Teaspoons ahoy!

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