Nominet Considers Criminal Domain Takedown Rules

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Police could request a domain be blocked without a court order, if new proposals are adopted

Nominet, the registrar that handles .uk domains, is moving ahead with proposed rules (PDF) that could allow law enforcement agencies to request a domain be shut down without a court order.

The registrar launched the process in response to a request from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Currently Nominet’s rules don’t allow for domains to be shut down for criminal reasons, though in the past it has blocked domains at the request of law enforcement agencies on the pretext that they provided false contact details.

Limited application

Suspension of a domain will not require a court order but should be limited to circumstances where necessary “to prevent serious and immediate consumer harm”, according to Nominet.

The draft proposal would establish a process under which law enforcement agencies would request a domain be blocked in cases where “suspension is proportionate, necessary, and urgent”.

The policy would cover cases in which a site is involved in crimes covered under the Serious Crimes Act 2007, including fraud, prostitution, money laundering, blackmail and copyright infringement.

Nominet would only accept take-down requests from law enforcement bodies with which it has a trusted relationship.

The policy would allow for appeals and would not allow take-down requests related to “disputes between private parties, freedom of expression or political speech, or requests relating to offences where prosecution would require the authorisation of the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions”, Nominet said.

Nominet’s director of policy, Alex Blowers, said the policy was intended for cases where the delay needed to obtain a court order would allow damage to consumers.

Copyright enforcement

While the policy advisory group has taken input from the Alliance Against IP Theft, Blowers said the policy wasn’t intended for private copyright enforcement.

An advisory group was formed in March, chaired by Dr Ian Walden, a professor of communications law at Queen Mary University of London, and including members from law enforcement, ISPs, domain regsitrars and academia.

The group’s draft recommendations have now been published and Nominet is seeking feedback from stakeholders ahead of a 21 September meeting, where the issue will be discussed before submitting recommendations to the Nominet Board.

If adopted the rules could go into effect by the end of the year, and will be subject to an annual review.

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