Friday, 26 November 2010

Don't use Nominet .uk domains any more?

[update: my post below is a tad confrontational, and itself somewhat knee jerk. Alex Bligh has produced a much better worded article on why this is so wrong]

Well, we have always been very keen to promote .uk domains managed by Nominet. The contract was always very clear, the domain owner was protected from stupidities of the ISP they were using, the registration process was quick and easy, and the prices were sensible. We liked UK domains and supported Nominet.

But to be honest the extent with which Nominet are colluding with big brother is now making me very concerned.

The latest news suggests proposals that any .uk domain where there are "reasonable grounds to believe they are being used to commit a crime" such as "a request from an identified UK Law Enforcement Agency" could be instantly suspended.

This is mental!

Many popular .uk domains are used to commit a crime. You can guarantee that someone somewhere has used in some way to commit a crime. And of course, will have been used to commit a crime every time anyone sends an email that someone in the country could find menacing (even if the recipient does not).

Bear in mind that many company web sites still fail to include all of the correct details as required by the Companies Act 2009 - that's a crime, so all of those domains could be instantly taken down stopping not only the companies web site but their email and any other services using the domain which could even include their phones these days!

You may think I am being silly here - but when we have a system that can convict someone of a joke on twitter, you realise that perhaps I am not. It's a good thing that twitter don't use a UK domain or proposed laws like this could have taken twitter down completely. You have the crazy situation where someone could complain that an email they got could have been menacing to some hyperthetical older couple and that means the domain used for the email could be suspended as it is used to commit a crime.

Bear in mind the police do not want to investigate and prosecute these frivolous crimes, so requesting Nominet take the domain down would be a quick and easy way of dealing with a complaint from the public.

It is like saying that BT should turn off a whole telephone exchange if anyone uses one of the lines to commit a crime. The implications of suspending a domain can be much more far reaching than just a web page.

Of course some people with no clue (such as many politicians) will wonder why I am ranting on this - surely this is a good thing as it helps stop criminal activity. If they really think that some web site that the establishment don't like will go away because their domain is suspended, they are totally round the bend. The fitwatch example given, using a UK domain to point to a US site would simply be on a .com domain, or a .cx domain or any number of other domains around the world - or better still on a direct IP address URL. I have already said how the whole concept of domain names is diluted now, with people using twitter and facebook namespaces as well as saying "search for xxx". So many people are not using domains now. Changing a web site from one domain to another has effect as fast as the search engines pick it up. So this suggestion is pointless.

Like so many uninformed knee jerk reactions, it has no effect on any crinimals but has huge scope to damage letitimate domain users and companies. Actually, no effect is not true - it creates publicity for the criminals.

If Nominet go ahead with this then we'll stop doing free UK domains with our DSL and start recommending customers use other registries. Nominet should be explaining the complete futility of such proposals not agreeing with them.

I'd love to hear Nominet's side on this one. Lets hope this is just bad reporting and I am wrong about this.


  1. Yes, I have emailed Nominet on this policy.

    I am not at all happy that Nominet would act on a mere "request from an identified UK Law Enforcement Agency" to take down a domain.

    There seems to be an increasing trend to allow action to be taken against people based on allegations, hearsay or requests from law enforcement.

    We have a legal process and a strong principle of "innocent until *proven* guilty" in the UK, and many people believe in that.

    If someone is in fact guilty (convicted by a court) then it is all well and good for action to be taken against them.

    In some cases action may be needed more expediently, and if a judge is prepared to issue a court order, then of course Nominet must act. But requiring a court order provides a degree of impartial and legally knowledgeable evaluation of the allegations being made.

    Simply acting on a request from law enforcement allows action to be taken based on no evidence. It provides a easy route to deal with complaints and issues that does not involve any of that annoying process of gathering evidence and proving someone is guilty.

    I am also slightly concerned that Nominet would even have in the terms that a domain must not be used for anything criminal. After all, if I was to include in this email "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!" then it is well established that I am a criminal under section 127 of the Communications Act in doing so, as someone (does not have to be you) would find this email "menacing". I have "used" as a crucial part of committing that crime. So under such rules should be suspended.

    One of the other reasons for resisting this nonsense is that we all know it is totally futile. Anyone committing a crime using a domain can use other domains or even direct IPs. They could either use non UK domains in the first place (which is not a bad outcome for Nominet I suppose) or change to a new domain when the uk one is taken down. So many people use search engines these days and not direct domain names that it would have little or no impact on most criminal activity to take down their UK domain. However, it is easy to see that this policy could have a lot of fall out and abuse that affects innocent parties.

    If you do operate this policy then can I at the very least request that there is a follow up process to confirm if there was a conviction following each request, and publish the stats. It is probably worth also following up in each case how quickly the same crime moves to another domain (uk or otherwise) if at all possible. This would show how unjust and futile such a policy is using proper statistics.


  2. I was thinking, a controversial site should pick a code word which is not currently in any search engine. For example, for this post I choose kyzjevpvcby. If the site is forced to move suddenly, readers will always be able to find it, just by putting the code word into any search engine.

    It would be quite funny if Big Brother decided to start banning words, on the basis that particular ones could be used to locate undesirable sites!

  3. If Nominet were to suspend your .uk domain, you could conceivably argue in a libel court that they are publicly branding you a criminal with no justification... could be expensive for them.

  4. Indeed, but a domain is in effect "a word used to locate a site". It happens to use a specific mechanism (DNS), but your idea of searching for a unique word or phrase is just as good.

    Ironically the original web site URL will work just as well, as the new site just has to say "we are no longer on xxx as they took it down, bastards" or some such and searching for the original name brings up the new site...

  5. "From: Mr Policeman
    To: Nominet Takedown Department
    Subject: Infringing domain

    It has come to our attention that the website at is being used for criminal activities. Using standard DNS utilities (dig +trace we have determined that the operation of that website relies on several hostnames within the domain We therefore request, under section 1.2.3 of the 2011 Ill Concieved Kneejerk act, that you immediately suspend the domain


  6. That is a very good point - lets take this international - I can guarantee all the root server and TLD name server domains are being used for criminal activity. Taken 'em all down!?!?

  7. Well, I jest about the root servers, but what of sub domains, like my old If the ISP says "we do care about criminal activity so just get a court order and we'll take it down right away", do they go to nominet and say take down? Does that force demon to take down subdomains on request as a result, bypassing legal process yet again?

  8. So what happens if I set up my own DNS system in competition with the standard one and put illegal stuff on say on that?

    I suspect that the fact that there is nothing special or unique about the "normal" DNS system other than it's the one everyone uses would confuse them completely.

  9. That's precisely what would happen.. the moment you start messing around with DNS like that there will quickly spring up a 'dark' DNS that doesn't worry about legal process at all.

    After all, there's nothing particularly special about the root nameservers other than they're 'official'.

  10. Nominet have spoken at the ISPA meeting to confirm it was a SOCA proposal not a Nominet one. But we do feel that needs to have been much clearer.