Commentary

New ICANN Proposal Could Curb Anonymous Blogging

Privacy advocates are sounding the alarm about an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers proposal that could make it impossible for people to create blogs, or any other Web sites, anonymously.

The proposal, backed by the entertainment industry, could prohibit domains used for “commercial” purposes from using proxy registration services. Figuring out whether a site is commercial isn't always straightforward, but a Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy panel previously decided that a blog monetized by AdSense was commercial, according to the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

If that reasoning holds, then bloggers who run ads would no longer be able to create sites anonymously. This means that people who operate gripe sites, lifestyle bloggers, and even Web users who post news might no longer be able to do so without identifying themselves.

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In the past, numerous judges have rejected attempts to unmask Web site operators who criticize companies or public officials. Judges in those cases have said that people have the right to speak anonymously, provided they aren't violating any laws.

This latest ICANN proposal, however, effectively guts many of the privacy protections that courts have long endorsed -- at least for bloggers who accept ads.

Entertainment companies apparently want the change in order to identify the owners of Web sites that host copyrighted material. Currently, those companies often can obtain that information anyway, but only with a court order.

In May, Steven Metalitz of the Coalition for Online Accountability, which represents copyright owners, told Congress that domain name registrations “need to be brought into the sunlight.” He added that there is a “legitimate role” for anonymous registrations, but only in “limited circumstances.”

The EFF is rallying opposition to ICANN's plan, arguing that people are entitled to post online without revealing their identities. “The ability to speak anonymously protects people with unpopular or marginalized opinions, allowing them to speak and be heard without fear of harm,” the group says. “It also protects whistleblowers who expose crime, waste, and corruption.”

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