Our ability to remain anonymous on the internet is in jeopardy, following a rule proposal that would force web domain owners to disclose their real names and addresses to the public.
Privacy advocates, public interest groups and even some celebrities are raising alarms about a proposal that could limit the ability of some website owners to disguise themselves.
The issue has caught fire over the past few months as an obscure organization that manages the Internet’s domain name system was inundated with comments about a proposal that could bar commercial websites from using proxies to register their web addresses.
Advocates argue anonymity is a key feature of free speech online, and removing that protection from people who create a website for commercial purposes could open vulnerable populations up to abuse.
“Whatever the interest in unmasking an anonymous speaker, free speech interests demand the preservation of opportunities for anonymous speech,” Public Knowledge, the Open Technology Institute and the Center for Democracy and Technology argued in joint public comments.
Individuals and businesses are currently allowed to hide their identity, physical location and other personal contact information behind proxies in the public “WHOIS” directory that stores information online about the owners of every registered website domain name.
This “obscure organization” is called ICANN, which stands for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The Unites States has no formal supervision authority over the ICANN committee.
How big was the wave of resistance against this proposal? The Hill says:
More than 11,000 comments have been filed, in a process where 20 is usually a decent number.
This proposal would have a chilling effect on free speech. The idea that people can only express themselves in an online environment where they have to expose their personal information without any sort of warrant is unacceptable.