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WHOIS is a required information service where the identifying data of all registrants of domain names (such as yourname.gay) are made publicly available on the Internet. This information is made public in order to help Law enforcement Agencies (LEA) and others such as content providers and consumers, locate those responsible for Internet/Web content.
There are two types of WHOIS service:
- Thin: The registrar, i.e. the group that leases you your domain name, keeps all of the identifying data. The registry, e.g. dotgay LLC, only keeps a pointer to the registrar where the data is kept. In Thin WHOIS, to find the party responsible for a web site, one first needs to search with the Registry and then subsequently with the correct Registrar.
- Thick: Both the registry and the registrar are responsible for keeping the authoritative identifying information and for making this data public.
All new gTLDs have been required to provide Thick WHOIS service. Some of the existing gTLDs, such as .com and .net, are currently allowed to maintain a Thin WHOIS.
There is currently a Policy Development Process on Thick WHOIS ongoing in ICANN to determine:
- Should all Registries, including the incumbents, be required to support Thick WHOIS?
- Are there any special concerns, including privacy concerns, about moving from a Thin WHOIS to a Thick WHOIS issue. that need to be considered?
One of the critical issues that came up in the discussions was whether an Applicant’s Personal Data, might be entitled to greater privacy protections in some countries than in others. If so and in the event that the Registrar and Registry are in different countries, with different privacy rules, is moving the data from a safe haven in the registrar’s country an infringement of a registrant’s privacy rights.
The Working Group filed its initial report in June 2013. It is currently working on its final report and is in the process of determining the degree of consensus on the various recommendations. Generally, there is a consensus, that while the privacy concern is real, there are no special circumstances in the move from Thin to Thick WHOIS that differ from the general case. The recommendation is that the issue of privacy, in the light of differing levels of Human Rights protection, is an important issue for further policy development, but not in scope for this development process.
Another issue that is being reviewed under the Thick WHOIS privacy issue is the use of Privacy and Proxy Services that allow registrants to protect their privacy for a fee. These services are currently unlicensed and unregulated. There is an interest on the part of some stakeholders to build rules for proxy services. These privacy and proxy service would be subject to the same cross-border privacy issues.
As .gay will be available for registration in many countries where the gay population is under threat and where privacy may be a matter of life and death, these issue are among the critical ICANN domain name discussions that dotgay LLC is following and contributing to.