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Montreal in November is not as bad as it sounds; the weather is crisp and clear, the snow isn’t too deep yet, and it doesn’t get dark until a reasonable time in the evening. It’s still not my top choice for a travel destination at this time of year, but the ICANN conference definitely made it all worthwhile. For those who couldn’t make it out to Montreal, here are the highlights.

How best to handle DNS abuse

While changes necessitated by the GDPR were a hot topic at ICANN66, we were pleased to see a lot of discussion about DNS Abuse and how best to address it. Front and centre in these conversations was the “Framework to Address Abuse“, a document signed by Tucows and other major registrars and registries hoping to standardize our industry’s approach to DNS Abuse. In that Framework, Tucows and our co-signatories proposed a definition of DNS Abuse that we believe is correct and appropriately limited, while also describing a set of non-DNS Abuse categories on which we would, nonetheless, take action. The plenary session on DNS Abuse was the most well-attended session at any ICANN meeting so far.

It’s impossible to summarize such a broad topic and intense discussion (you can, however, watch the whole thing online!), but here are the key takeaways:

  • DNS Abuse is a topic that the community is working to address
  • There’s concern around who should respond to Abuse and how to do so in a proportional manner
  • There are already tools in place that ICANN Compliance could use to help in this effort

We’re committed to working within our space to address Abuse, and we look forward to collaborating with other groups in the domain name industry as this work continues.

You guessed it… the GDPR

The impact of the GDPR and other data privacy regulations on the Domain Name System remained a primary focus for ICANN66. Both the Expedited Policy Development Process (EPDP) team (the group that works to determine what the permanent replacement to ICANN’s Temp Spec must include and address) and the Implementation Review Team (the group responsible for transforming the EPDP’s Phase 1 recommendations into Consensus Policy) made good use of the opportunity for face-to-face meetings.

Work from the EPDP team

The EPDP team is in Phase 2 of their work, developing a System for Standardized Access and Disclosure (SSAD) by which third-parties can obtain non-public gTLD registration data. It’s a large project, and the work is divided up into a series of “building blocks,” each examining different aspects of this system, such as accreditation (for third-parties in search of data), data retention requirements, and auditing.

We think this is a useful approach, but some core questions remain unanswered, including the fundamental one: who is the entity making the disclosure decision?

When a third-party requests access to registration data, will that be relayed to the relevant registrar or registry operator, or will the SSAD operator make that determination? Could a standalone SSAD operator have all the relevant information needed to appropriately decide if the request should be fulfilled or denied? Could a registrar or registry operator provide data to be disclosed via the SSAD while remaining compliant with data protection laws? As the building blocks get finalized these underlying open issues are brought to the forefront, and we’re getting closer to the point where the EPDP can’t continue its work without these answers.

To that end, ICANN has set up a “Strawberry Team,” a group of ICANN staff working in parallel to the EPDP team. Just before ICANN66, they sent a proposed model for registration data disclosure to the European Data Protection Board, asking for feedback.

There’s a general sense of frustration among EPDP members around the lack of communication about this; the team had asked ICANN to share any proposals or models with them before sending it out to groups like the Data Protection Board, and that didn’t happen here. There’s also concern that this work should be happening within the multistakeholder model rather than alongside it.

Ultimately, if the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) provides advice, that can only be a good thing. However, as we wrote following ICANN64 in Kobe, it’s important to remember that any statement by the EDPB that the model is acceptable could easily be retracted in the future; it’s not a guarantee of legality. Instead, decisions around how to update ICANN contracts and Consensus Policies should be made by the ICANN Community, who are able to take relevant local laws and regulations into account while considering the policies our industry needs.

Work from the Implementation Review Team

Alongside the EPDP’s Phase 2 work, the Implementation Review Team (IRT) is in the midst of transforming the EPDP’s Phase 1 Recommendations into a “gTLD Registration Data Policy.” Once complete, this gTLD Registration Data Policy will replace the Temp Spec and permanently modify ICANN’s Registrar Accreditation Agreement (as well as other ICANN policies) to bring them into compliance with the GDPR and other data protection laws.

This new policy will cover:

  • data collection
  • transfer of data from registrar to registry
  • transfer of data to data escrow provider
  • publication of registration data
  • logging
  • data retention requirements

This gTLD Registration Data Policy will also include a section on “Reasonable Requests for Lawful Disclosure of Non-Public Registration Data.” You may be wondering how this ties into the EPDP team’s Phase 2 work developing a System for Standardized Access and Disclosure (SSAD): would they not go hand in hand? The difference is that the IRT’s Policy will govern how requests for data are handled when made directly to individual registrars or registry operators, while the SSAD is intended to be a standalone unified system with a single point of contact and operator.

There is not yet an expected date for when the new gTLD Registration Data Policy will become effective, but we will keep you posted as things develop.

Tucows’ involvement in the ICANN Community

The Tucows team also presented on panels and attended sessions on a variety of other topics. We discussed expectations for RDAP, the successor to the Whois protocol, based on outcomes of the EPDP and IRT; we worked with the joint registrar and registry “TechOps” team on a set of topics, including best practices for transfer authorization codes.

ICANN meetings are a unique combination of exhausting and exhilarating. Participants from all around the world come together to work on specific topics, with hundreds of sessions to choose from, and the public forums are always fascinating. We continue to work hard to make sure that the concerns of our customers and their registrants are represented at this important venue.