Earlier this month, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) annual meeting closed without resolving important issues regarding privacy rights and domain registration in the European Union.

EU to Implement General Data Protection Law

At the center of the conflict is the fact that the European Union has passed a new privacy law that impacts domain registrant data.  This law is scheduled to take effect in May 2018.  This law, the General Data Protection (“GDPR”), is designed to broaden protection and protect the privacy rights of citizens in the European Union that use the Internet by limiting access to domain registrant’s personal information.

This new stance by the European Union comes into direct conflict with generally accepted guidelines provided by ICANN regarding domain name registries and the personal information published publicly when a citizen registers a domain.

ICANN’s Push for Transparency

Under ICANN, when a citizen registers a domain anywhere in the world, personal information on that person is available publicly.  This data is often referred to as “WHOIS data” and often contains personal information about the registrant that may include, but is not limited to, the registrant’s name, address, email address, phone number, and other similarly personal details.

ICANN believes that such data must be available publicly in order to combat cybercrimes that include domain cybersquatting, trademark infringement, and false advertising.  ICANN’s guidelines and support of public dissemination allows for intellectual property counsel and the brand owners that they represent to better police their brands and pursue any third parties that attempt to partake in illegal activities that abuse domain registration.

Stronger Privacy Rights Come Forth in EU’s GDPR

The European Union, on the other hand, argues that ICANN, a non-profit organization that is based in California, is overstepping its bounds by trying to force U.S. laws and procedures upon European Union citizens.  Historically, the European Union has often passed much more stringent Internet privacy laws than the United States, and the GDPR is poised to follow in the same footsteps.

While both parties have signaled a willingness to seek some sort of compromise or joint resolution, the ICANN annual meeting closed without shedding any light on the dilemma, and in fact, ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee ultimately ended up adopting a new communique that praised the legitimate uses of WHOIS data (e.g., assisting law enforcement, combating misuse of domains, helping brand owners protect their rights online, etc.).  Moreover, the ICANN communique further stated that ICANN should continue to strengthen its stance on ensuring that WHOIS data is readily available worldwide.

Domains Set in Stone?

While they failed to compromise, there is still one more chance for the European Union and ICANN to come to some sort of resolution before the official rollout of the GDPR.  ICANN is scheduled to have their next annual meeting in March 2018 in San Juan, two months before GDPR is scheduled to come into effect.  In the meantime, ICANN has hired European counsel to assist it in understanding and complying with the GDPR, and with such help, hopefully, the ICANN and the European Union can provide intellectual property attorneys and brand owners with more tangible guidance by the end of the March 2018 meeting before the GDPR officially comes into effect.

More articles on IP in the European Union:
Is it Legal to Photograph the Eiffel Tower at Night?
Adidas Loses Iconic Three-Stripe Trademark Registration in the EU
Hollywood Takes on Streaming Devices

For more information on this topic, please visit our Domain Name Acquisition and Privacy Policies service pages, which are part of our Internet & eCommerce Practice.

Klemchuk LLP is an Intellectual Property (IP), Technology, Internet, and Business law firm located in Dallas, TX.  The firm offers comprehensive legal services including litigation and enforcement of all forms of IP as well as registration and licensing of patents, trademarks, trade dress, and copyrights.  The firm also provides a wide range of technology, Internet, e-commerce, and business services including business planning, formation, and financing, mergers and acquisitions, business litigation, data privacy, and domain name dispute resolution.  Additional information about the Internet & eCommerce law firm and its Internet & eCommerce attorneys may be found at www.klemchuk.com.

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