Feds End Proxy .us Domain Registration

Matt O'Conner
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Commerce Department has ordered domain registrars to shut down services that allow webmasters to anonymously register .us domain names via proxy.

The decision, which would make the names and contact information of .us website owners publicly accessible, does not effect .com or .net domains.

On Feb. 2, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the Commerce Department, sent a letter to NeuStar, an NTIA-contracted company responsible for administering the .us domain and for accrediting companies that sell the domain addresses.

The letter requested that NeuStar warn registrars, including Network Solutions, eNom, and Go Daddy, to stop allowing proxy .us registrations effective Feb. 16. Those failing to comply, the letter says, would immediately lose their right to continue selling .us registrations.

The letter also gave domain owners one year to either allow registrars to update the public Whois database with their names, phone numbers and postal addresses or forfeit their domains.

According to Wired News’ Kim Zetter, “The agency ruled with no warning and without any discussion with the companies accredited to sell and register .us domains.”

However, Clyde Ensslin, a media relations officer for the NTIA, told XBiz that the agency is merely enforcing a provision of a pre-existing contract that registrars have been violating for years.

“We have never permitted proxy or anonymous registration in the .us space,” Ensslin said.

The agency added that the directive is intended to fulfill a requirement for searchable and accurate information on .us domains in the Whois database.

Because .us is the country code for top-level domains, we need [the information] to be accurate for dispute resolution and in case we need to re-bid the contract and give it to another vendor, or in case a registrar’s business fails,” Ensslin told XBiz.

The letter the agency said Neustar also cited the need for law enforcement officials to be able to access webmaster contact information.

The move came under heavy criticism from domain registrars and free speech groups, who dispute the NTIA’s claim that it is clarifying an existing contract.

“We’ve been selling proxy registrations for three years. They knew it but never said anything about it,” said Christine Jones, general counsel for Go Daddy, the second-largest domain registrar in the United States. “They established a new policy, and for them to say otherwise is pure crap.”

Jones added that identifying information on site owners is placed in an escrow account and that law enforcement officials can access it at any time as long as they obtain a subpoena. Approximately 23,000 of the 300,000 .us domains Go Daddy has registered were done so by proxy.

Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons also addressed the issue on his own website earlier this week, writing, “Here we have a situation where we have a bureaucrat… who arbitrarily made a decision that will violate the privacy of thousands of law abiding Americans.

Parsons said his company began allowing proxy registration in response to a terrified female webmaster who said she was stalked by a man who used a Whois lookup to find her contact information. He added that he has already contacted several members of Congress in an attempt to get the NTIA edict reversed.