Friday, March 02, 2007

Fourth Circuit leaves unresolved whether the feds can force domain name registrars to disclose customer infromation

IP attorney Tom Vanderbloemen, a friend of mine from Gallivan, White & Boyd, passes this along about Peterson v. National Telecommunications:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit published an opinion yesterday that leaves open the question of whether the federal government can compel an internet domain name registrar to disclose to the public information about its customers. In Peterson v. National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the plaintiff sought an injunction to prevent his website registrar from disclosing to the public his name, telephone number, physical address, and e-mail address. The plaintiff operated his political website using the “.us” top-level domain or TLD, similar to other TLDs like".com", ".org", and ".edu". Most TLDs are operated by private entities, but ".us" is a country-specific TLD controlled by the government. The National Telecommunications & Information Administration or NTIA, which administers the “.us” TLD for the government, recently began allowing private entities to use the “.us” TLD, but required registrars to publish the identifying information. Despite this requirement, at least one “.us” registrar did not disclose information about its customers, but instead registered them “by proxy” with its own information. When NTIA found out, it ordered the public disclosure.The appeals court found that the plaintiff was not entitled to an injunction. The court explained that the “First Amendment protects anonymous speech in order to prevent the government from suppressing expression through compelled public identification,” but that the plaintiff was not injured by the disclosure because his website already contained information identifying him. As a result, the court did not have to address the more sensitive issue of “whether the disclosure requirement might, under other circumstances, cause injury to an individual’s right to speak anonymously.” Thus, although there are many website owners who prefer to remain anonymous, for those whose the “.us” TLD, it remains an open question whether the government can compel publication of their identifying information.

No comments: