ICANN’s plan to end online anonymity would ‘radically undermine’ internet safety


DIGITAL RIGHTS ADVOCATES have written a scathing open letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), describing its plan to end online anonymity as harmful to privacy and safety. 

ICANN wants to make it a requirement for owners of commercial websites to display their address under their WHOIS data.

An open letter from the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, signed by members of the Free Software Foundation and Salesforce, has criticised ICANN’s plans for “radically undermining” online privacy.

“This prevents millions of site owners from safeguarding their private information. We strongly oppose the ICANN Working Group’s proposal, which will physically endanger many domain owners and disproportionately impact those who come from marginalised communities,” the letter said.

“People perceived to be women, non-white, or LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] are often targeted for harassment, and such harassment inflicts significant harm.

“The endemic nature of inequity online is a matter of deep concern for all of us, as we are working to make the internet a safe and accessible place for all voices.”

The proposals would make it particularly easy to ‘dox’ and ‘swat’ people online, the letter argued, which means it could subject many groups, individuals and organisations to harassment, while the ability to ‘call in false’ could see a fully armed SWAT team crashing through a targeted person’s door.

To ‘dox’ is to search for and publish private or identifying information about an individual, usually with malicious intent.

The letter continued: “Our concern about doxing is not hypothetical. Randi Harper, a technologist, anti-harassment activist and founder of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, was swatted based on information obtained from the WHOIS record for her domain.

“If implemented, the current proposal will chill speech, especially from people who lack access to lavish legal resources. It will be a generous gift to harassers and oppressive regimes.

“It will curb economic activity by adding untenable risk to using a website to promote one’s business or to collect donations, and may even add this risk to hosting ads.

“Women, people of colour, and members of other marginalised communities, who are the most frequent targets of doxing, will be forced to take costly, speech-restrictive steps in order to protect themselves.

“While ICANN certainly did not set out to exacerbate online harassment, that will ultimately be the result of this policy.”

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