Advocacy/comments filed by FTC staff: The staff of the Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection has provided comments to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN) regarding recently negotiated agreements among ICANN, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Network Solutions, Inc. concerning the registration of Internet domain names (e.g., amazon.com).
In general, the comment focuses on the need for the registrars of domain names to "exercise greater vigilance" in requiring accurate contact information from registrants in .com, .net and .org domains. Accordingly, while the comment stresses staff's support of a number of measures contained in the tentative agreements, it offers two suggestions for closing possible loopholes in those measures.
First, the comment suggests that the agreements would be strengthened if they required that registrars, if unable to obtain accurate domain name information after having conducted an investigation and after having given the registrant a reasonable opportunity to correct inaccuracies, suspend registrations for commercial sites until accurate information is obtained. It states that the decision to suspend should not be left to the discretion of the registrar, as this could provide a potential loophole that would continue to allow con artists to perpetrate fraud anonymously.
Second, the comment suggests that ICANN "avoid delay in adopting a policy requiring registrars to implement reasonable verification measures," stating that "even modest up-front verification procedures could help weed out blank or incomplete registration forms, as well as some of the obviously false information which undermines the integrity of the Whois database." Such "reasonable and commercially practicable" efforts could be implemented, according to the comment, without unduly constraining the high-volume operations of the registrar.
The Commission's interest in this subject is a result of its mandate to enforce the FTC Act, which, in part, protects consumers from unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce. In enforcing the Act, Commission staff have filed more than 100 Internet-related cases since 1994, obtaining orders for more than $80 million in consumer redress and injunctions prohibiting future illegal conduct.
Such fraud on the Internet can appear suddenly, spread rapidly, and disappear just as quickly, necessitating the ability to use domain name registration databases (via a Whois service) to obtain accurate information about the operators of the Web sites being investigated. When the information in such databases is accurate, law enforcement can often quickly identify those individuals responsible for online fraud.
The comment concludes that the agreements, "especially if modified [as recommended by FTC staff], should improve the information-gathering practices of registrars and the quality of the Whois database, thereby aiding law enforcement in preventing Internet fraud."
The Commission vote to authorize staff to release the comment was 4-0 (FTC File No. V990015).
The comment represents the views of the staff of the Bureau of Consumer Protection and are not necessarily the views of the Federal Trade Commission or any individual Commissioner.
Copies of the documents mentioned in this FYI are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 877-FTC Help (877-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.