Nominet has been running a review of its domain registration policy. Prompted by a campaign by the Daily Mail and anti-pornography activist John Carr, it is considering the suggestion that it should ban the use of certain ‘strings’ in domain names on the grounds that they are “offensive or repugnant to public policy”.
Nominet initially responded by setting out some perfectly good reasons why it couldn’t judge what was legal but simply offensive, but when Internet Minister Ed Vaizey intervened to demand action it felt obliged to move.
LINX has responded to this consultation, saying
If the Minister believes that there are certain strings that are so harmful to public welfare that they should not be permitted in domain names, his proper course is to introduce legislation in Parliament.
Our preference is that Parliament determines what words are prohibited, and that Nominet restrict itself to its important function of maintaining a reliable and secure registry for the .uk domain space.
However, recognising that Nominet may have made up its mind to yield before insuperable political pressure, we also offer four key objectives in making a new registration policy.
Transparency of policy
Any policy that bans strings should be detailed and specific about the grounds for restricting those strings. To the extent possible, it should aim to enable decision-making on particular domains to be objective and certain, even if the policy itself is subjective.
Transparency of policy-making
If Nominet decides to implement a new policy, it should publish the full text of the policy it intends to apply, including any associated outward-facing procedures, guidelines and interpretative aids, in draft form, for public comment. Nominet should only adopt a policy having had the benefit of public scrutiny of the details of the policy, rather than proceeding directly from comment on the basic principle to adoption.
Transparency of decision-making
Nominet should be open to scrutiny of the decisions made under the policy. At minimum, Nominet should maintain on its web site a list of the strings banned under the policy. It should also publish reasoned decisions for new strings listed (or groups of strings).
A person who has registered, or who wishes to register, a banned string should be entitled to fair treatment on the basis that Nominet proposes to deprive that person of a valuable item (possibly an item in which they have invested considerable marketing and branding resources) to which they are otherwise entitled. Key elements of fairness would include advance notice, a right to be heard and to state the case for permitting continued registration, a presumption in their favour, and an independent and impartial decision-maker.
A full copy of our consultation response is available to members on request from the Public Affairs department.