U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) today said that a plan to expand the number of available Internet domain names could potentially create new opportunities for bad actors to prey on consumers and create unnecessary burdens for businesses. In a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which administers policy for the Internet name and address system, the Senators expressed concern about the plan to expand top-level domain names and urged ICANN to take immediate steps to prevent harm to businesses and consumers.
"This plan could put consumers at an increased risk for online fraud and place an unnecessary financial burden on businesses," Klobuchar said. "I urge ICANN to take immediate action to protect consumers and address the concerns raised by businesses, non-profit organizations, and law enforcement agencies without further delay."
"I'm very concerned that ICANN's plan could confuse consumers and expose them to increased risk of fraud and theft, increase costs for businesses, and pose serious challenges to the law enforcement community in investigating and prosecuting wrongdoers," said Senator Ayotte, a former New Hampshire Attorney General. "I urge ICANN to address the concerns raised by law enforcement officials and the business community prior to implementing the proposal."
Klobuchar recently chaired a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the ICANN domain expansion proposal, during which several witnesses highlighted the potential financial burdens the expansion would place on businesses, universities, and non-profit organizations due to "defensive registrations." Companies have expended significant resources over the last decade to register their names in top-level domains that they never have any intention of using, simply because they don't want a scammer or fraudulent actor to use it. The significant expansion of top-level domains contemplated by ICANN could seriously exacerbate this problem.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has further highlighted the potential for "significant consumer harm" as a result of top-level domain name expansion. Previous rounds of top-level domain name expansion have created new opportunities for bad actors to prey upon consumers.
The full text of Klobuchar's and Ayotte's letter is below.
December 22, 2011
Dr. Stephen D. Crocker
Chairman, Board of Directors
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
1101 New York Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
325 Lytton Avenue, Suite 300
Palo Alto, California 94301
Dear Dr. Crocker and Mr. Beckstrom,
On December 8, 2011, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plan to expand the available top level domain (TLD) names available on the Internet. At the hearing, we heard from a cross-section of witnesses who expressed concerns about the new TLD name expansion. We are deeply concerned about the potential negative consequences this could have should ICANN's TLD expansion proceed at this time. We ask ICANN to work with all stakeholders to mitigate the significant challenges posed to consumers, businesses and law enforcement prior to implementation of the new TLD program.
Several witnesses from the hearing, in addition to thousands of stakeholders, have highlighted the potential financial burdens to entities forced to protect their Web presence through defensive registration. Companies, universities, and non-profit organizations have already expended significant resources over the last decade to defensively register their names in TLDs that they have no intention of using, simply because they don't want a scammer or fraudulent actor to use it. The significant expansion of TLDs contemplated by ICANN could seriously exacerbate this problem.
The Federal Trade Commission has also highlighted the potential for "significant consumer harm" as a result of TLD name expansion. Previous rounds of TLD name expansion have created new opportunities for bad actors to prey upon consumers. Additional TLD names could further expose consumers to fraudulent entities and scam artists who are looking for ways to exploit individuals online.
In addition, we understand that law enforcement agencies from around the world, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, issued a number of recommendations for ICANN over two years ago and that ICANN has yet to take action on the majority of these recommendations. Serious issues remain with the accuracy and completeness of the personal and contact information that Website and domain name owners must provide to populate the database of registrants, known as WHOIS information. This information is especially critical for law enforcement agencies trying to track down cyber criminals.
As former prosecutors who have worked to protect consumers by prosecuting bad actors, immediate action is needed to mitigate the potential for consumer harm and address the concerns raised by businesses, non-profit organizations, and U.S. and international law enforcement agencies. Because implementation of the new TLD name program raises serious challenges for law enforcement officials, we ask that you commit to meaningfully addressing public safety concerns before launching any new domain names. Thank you for your attention to this matter.