Nominet proposes pulling websites on police suspicions of criminality

Out-Law News | 26 Nov 2010 | 12:34 pm | 2 min. read

The body responsible for running the .uk domain is considering changing its terms and conditions to give police more power to demand that domain names be cut off from the internet.

The non-profit body will consult on changes to its terms and conditions that would allow it to suspend domain names when it has "reasonable grounds" to believe that they are involved in criminal activity.

There is currently no contractual ban on using .uk domain names for illegal purposes. Nominet has set up a group to discuss inserting such a ban into contracts and disconnecting sites from domain names on police allegations of criminal activity.

"Nominet does not have any clear obligation in its registrant Terms and Conditions that a domain name should not be used in connection with any activity that would constitute an offence under UK criminal law," said a Nominet statement (1-page / 384KB PDF) proposing the establishment of an 'issue group' to discuss the action. "This is in contrast to many registrars and a number of registries including .org and .biz."

"We believe that formal policy advice is needed to underpin proposals for a change to Nominet’s Terms and Conditions to give a contractual basis to suspend domains where Nominet has reasonable grounds to believe they are being used to commit a crime (e.g. a request from an identified UK Law Enforcement Agency)," it said.

The consultation follows Nominet's suspension of 1,219 domain names last December without any court oversight. Police have told the body that sites located at the addresses were involved in counterfeiting and Nominet used an unrelated contractual technicality to cut the sites off.

"We were approached by the Police Central E-Crime Unit, which is a division of The Met, and asked to take down about 1,200 .uk domain names that were involved or under investigation for criminal activity," said Eleanor Bradley, Nominet's head of operations told OUT-LAW Radio at the time. "The Met asked us to take these domain names out of action so we suspended them, meaning that the websites were no longer available but that they couldn't be re-registered and used again."

Nominet legal head Nick Wenban-Smith told OUT-LAW Radio that Nominet used an unrelated contract breach to target the sites, admitting that it was "a truncated process".

"If you provide false details or they are out of date for some reason then that enables us to have an investigation and suspend until we're happy that everything is well," he said. "People who are going to those sites to which the domain name links them don't know who they're dealing with, the address is false."

Nominet has set up an 'issue group', headed by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, to look into the issue.

"There are increasing expectations from Law Enforcement Agencies that Nominet and its members will respond quickly to reasonable requests to suspend domain names being used in association with criminal activity and Nominet has been working with them in response to formal requests," said the paper published by Nominet setting up the issue group.

"The Issue Group will not give operational advice. However, it might want to discuss ideas related to the nature of formal requests for suspension, whether safeguards are necessary (an appeals process, for example), and what information and support might be needed from the industry for responsible officers in Law Enforcement Agencies to help them identify when action is appropriate," it said.

Nominet said that it would only propose cutting websites off from domain names if the company that had processed the site's registration had failed to act.

"We expect action to be taken by the registrar in the first instance. Action at the registry level would only be required if the incident was urgent or the registrar failed to comply," said the Nominet paper.

We are processing your request. \n Thank you for your patience. An error occurred. This could be due to inactivity on the page - please try again.