Rights, privacy, and public information as it relates to Whois.

As the internet community debates Whois and privacy this week in Kobe, Japan, I’d like to revisit my thoughts on the subject.

I am not in favor of default Whois privacy for domain names. Some of this is selfish; I often use Whois to track down who is buying and selling domain names, to figure out when a domain was stolen, to verify ownership, to check the veracity of legal claims, and to hunt down fraud. Not having public Whois makes this much harder for me.

But I also challenge the notion that people have a human right to privacy and I also believe that what is commonly called privacy is actually an issue of public information.

First, on human rights. Human rights are fictitious; they are things that we as humans have created, much like the notion of corporations. This can be a good thing, no doubt.

But the right to privacy is really only something that governments define and manage. And there’s a difference between privacy and information.

The governments that have authority over me enforce certain rights. You don’t have a right to enter my property to look in my bedroom.

If I want to do certain things, such as buy a house or car, I have to give some of my information to the public. Anyone can go to my county’s website and get the details of my house and property tax bill. If I want to set up a business I also have to give information.

If I don’t want this information to be public, I can take affirmative action. I can buy my house through a corporation, for example.

There are public benefits to open information, which is really what we’re talking about here. This isn’t about privacy–it’s about information.

One key benefit to open information is that it helps cut down on graft.

Where should domain names fall on this spectrum? Should my information be public if I register a domain name?

There are good arguments on both sides of this question. It’s fair to argue that public Whois information leads to spam and that is a reason to keep it private. That’s a reasonable argument and I respect it.

It’s also fair to argue that public Whois information helps security researchers, journalists and people transacting domain names.

What I don’t find a reasonable argument is that publishing Whois information violates someone’s right to privacy.

Much like other transactions we make that result in public data, there is both a public benefit to publishing such data and a way to prevent your personal information from becoming public when you register a domain name. Just add Whois privacy. Many registrars offer it for free.


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