It’s hard to pick up a paper, or an iPad, without reading about some bit of privacy that Americans have lost—or given up—in exchange for one convenience or another. It’s rare however that such an egregious attack on our privacy, like the one underway against every website owner in the world today and in the future, can march forward so quietly and without contest.

The battlefront is inside ICANN (the global body that regulates website domain names) and a powerful group of intellectual property lobbyists who are pushing for new rules that attack the very heart of digital privacy rights on the Web.

Here’s the issue. Historically, individuals and businesses who register a domain name can use privacy services that keep their personal information confidential. The private details needed to register a site, including home addresses and phone numbers, are currently held in confidence with the domain provider and only shared with outside parties under narrow circumstances, such as a legal warrant or subpoena. It’s a process that works well to balance privacy protections with law enforcement’s need to root out bad players who would use the Internet for criminal activity.

The new proposal, drafted and lobbied for by lawyers from the film and music industry, is designed to give them special access to a website owner’s confidential information so they can identify people they suspect of copyright and trademark violations without “all the hassle” of privacy protections. Though that’s unacceptable in itself, the proposed rules are far more reaching. Under the new system, domain providers like GoDaddy would be required to turn over a customer’s contact information to anyone who makes targeted claims against a website owner—without a subpoena, search warrant, or due process of any kind. And when I say anyone, I mean anyone. Estranged spouses, business competitors, rogue states and clandestine government agencies will all have unfettered access, without need for a single shred of verifiable evidence of wrongdoing. The doors to your confidential information will be effectively propped wide open.

Make no mistake, our current domain privacy protections matter for the welfare and safety of anyone who does, or ever will own a website. Domain privacy protects the security of shelters that need to keep their physical locations confidential to safeguard abused women and children. It protects the anonymity of political activist and whistle-blowers around the world who speak out online at great personal risk to themselves and their families. It protects bloggers and Internet personalities from stalkers. And it protects home-based Internet businesses who don’t have the means to secure their assets and inventories to the same degree as brick-and-mortar operations—to name just a few.

As CEO of the world’s largest domain registrar and Web host, I want to make it abundantly clear that we do not allow our customers to use our domain privacy services as a shield for criminal or other unlawful activity. We do everything in our power to help law enforcement and intellectual property owners do their jobs—but they must follow a proper legal and evidence-based process.

The overwhelming majority of online activity is legal and legitimate—and the newly proposed rules would treat all website owners as guilty first until proven innocent. Though admittedly convenient for lawyers and governments, this policy is as un-American as anything I can imagine.

The good news is that it’s not too late to change ICANN’s course. ICANN has opened a window for public comment on this program, and is seeking input from the public. You can email ICANN directly at comments-ppsai-initial-05may15@icann.org or easier yet, you can sign the online petition to protect domain privacy at savedomainprivacy.org. ICANN has set a deadline of July 7, 2015, so the window to act is small.

Though our privacy rights seem to be under constant attack, this is one fight we can win if each of us is moved to action. I’d ask everyone reading today to consider what’s at risk. Even if you don’t have a website yourself, your favorite local business, your local charity or your local church almost certainly does. Please help to protect your rights and theirs by sending ICANN a strong message to preserve domain privacy or by signing the online petition to demand the same.

PHOTO BY: Versus.com

5 thoughts on “Your Digital Privacy Is Under Attack, Again

  1. Hello Blake, I hear what you are expressing and believe your integrity in business is the best in it’s class However I doubt even you can stop counter intelligence stalking/gang stalking creeps from obtaining what ever they want to keep harming people that law enforcement asked you to turn over because of a badge spreading untruthfulness started from a wooden mallet hitting a cushion of soft money from a guy in a gown because they can without you hearing the real truth.

  2. Michael, This is a slippery slope. What is the difference between unfettered access to online information and unfettered access to hard copy information stored an offsite storage facility? You might argue that the filing cabinets are more secure because they are not accessible electronically. If that is the case, and it certainly is, then the personal information about web site owners is even more deserving of legal protection.

    What is wrong with asking the plaintiff to legally justify a search, by showing evidence that a wrong has occurred, before they can access confidential / personal information?

    We need to protect the fourth amendment with the same passion and energy with which we protect the second amendment, and all other amendments to our constitution.

  3. Thank you for this. I study cyber-politics, and I’m always irked by the little-protection offered to citizens online. We are truly a world without borders… in a bad way.

  4. As a successful small business owner and someone who really has an interest in this privacy legislation, I think Blake you hit the nail on the head. I believe that if this legislation like this is enabled, we are going to start to see more active litigation not just against large corporations, but small businesses like me. I believe this will create more censorship and websites will start auditing users, user conversations, and implementing automation of removing such content. In the US, we live on a basis of freedom of speech, and with this potential crisis (yes, I see it as a crisis), it will really affect every business on the web.

    While I am a fan of freedom of speech and press, I am also someone who runs his business on ethical standards and personal morals. I try to mitigate negativity while maintaining my customers abilities for freedom of speech. I believe we need to be pro-active on starting to analyze our content risk and come out with a more stringent privacy and term of service policies within our businesses, should the inevitable occur.

    Thanks for this post!

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