Groups rally against Nominet take-down push

ISPA, the London Internet Exchange and the Open Rights Group have opposed a proposal to allow UK domain registrar Nominet to take down sites suspected of involvement in criminal activity without a court order

The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has joined the Open Rights Group and London Internet Exchange (Linx) in resisting a proposal by Nominet to take down websites involved in illegal activities without the need for a court order.

Nominet — the body responsible for .uk domain allocation — began a process to change policy on "dealing with domain names used in connection with criminal activity" in March, at the prompting of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca). It has since been taking down domains, including hundreds thought to be selling counterfeit merchandise, at the request of police.

ISPA, the Open Rights Group and Linx said on Wednesday they reject the Nominet draft recommendations. Each decided independently that suspensions should only take place after receipt of a judicial order, they said. ISPA is a trade group of internet service providers, while Linx represents IP network providers.

"The Open Rights Group's understanding is that Nominet's current practices fail to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. It is an Article 6 right under the Convention to have an open, fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Article 6 rights cannot be waived," Jim Killock, executive director of the rights group, said in a statement.

Those human rights can only be curtailed by law, Killock argued, which is not the case if Nominet makes fast removal decisions without a court order.

"Timico is siding with ORG, Linx et al on this one," said Trefor Davies, chief technology officer of business ISP and communications provider Timico. "It would be the thin end of the wedge if we start letting people/organisations take decisions that are better left to the qualified judiciary."

"Notwithstanding this, Nominet has approached this subject with noble intentions, and it is an important issue that we should address. The answer, however, is to speed up the judicial process and not to put the onus on unqualified entities," Davies added.

Clear obligations

Unlike other registrars, Nominet does not have "any clear obligation" under its terms and conditions to deal with infringing domains, it has said (PDF). After receiving the Soca request, it began an informal consultation into changing the terms so it could quickly take down sites suspected by itself or the police of breaking the law.

The Open Rights Group and Linx are among the 20 organisations that were consulting with Nominet over the measures in a specially convened 'issue group' (PDF), which held a series of meetings between March and October to draft recommendations for the policy change. However, the participants struggled to agree on the exact terms to use.

"We have tried to find ways to balance the rights of individuals, but law enforcement agencies have been resisting suggestions that court orders might ever be sought. Their reasoning has been based around a lack of resources," he said.

The group also objected to Nominet's proposal that non-urgent cases, such as websites selling counterfeit goods, should be subject to the same suspension policy as more serious cases.

In response to these concerns, Nominet said it will delay submitting its draft proposal "as it is clear that there are issues that require further discussion". The registrar is hoping to reconvene the issue group in January to resolve the differences.

"Our approach from the outset has been to seek consensus where possible," the registrar said. "Nominet remains committed to ensuring all stakeholders have their views represented, so we can continue to run .uk for the benefit of all."

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