Thursday, 16 January 2014

Nanny state getting worse

Nominet have made a decision, based on a report by Lord Macdonald QC, that recommends that they check any domain registration that signals sex crime content or is in itself a sex crime. This is screening of domains within 48 hours of registration, and de-registration. The report says that such domains should be reported to the police even.

In spite of this, the report actually states that Nominet should have no role in policing questions of taste or offensiveness on the Internet!

So, lets start with why this is a problem - it is very simple, and is a trend we are seeing in other areas already.

There is a question of "should we censor or not?" which is a big and important question. By picking a very narrow "think of the children" type example to start this process, we bypass that question. When someone later proposes extending these rules the question of "should we censor?" is moot, already decided, and the question becomes how much should we censor, with each extra step being entirely reasonable.

I do not think this is too extreme a view to take, really. We have already seen this with IWF filtering and now filtering porn sites. Once in place the rules are gradually, and without fuss or even consultation, extended to other things.

I think it is very bad for Nominet to have taken this first huge step to vetoing domain name registrations, especially as the report even concludes that Nominet should have no role in bad taste of offensiveness.

But the other problem with this step is the pointlessness and ineffectiveness of it. The report itself states, for example, that in 2013 Nominet checked domains for key words used by the IWF, and as a result reported tens of thousands of domains to IWF for checking, all of which were false positives. Not one was, in fact, related to child sex abuse.

The report also highlights some bad domain registrations, including ones like pedophile.co.uk, which appears to be one of these speculatively registered domains linking to a generic advert based search for porn sites (legit porn sites, not child sex abuse sites). So, whilst in bad taste, not actually any illegal usage in any way. Indeed, the word pedophile or paedophile simply means someone that likes children, like most people do, much as francophile is just someone that likes all things French.

The process would have to allow through TheRapist.co.uk (therapist.co.uk) even if used with capital T and R, as registrations have no case.

The process would have to allow through a registration permitting a web site such as www.fuck.children.co.uk as children.co.uk is a perfectly innocent domain name.

So the steps being taken are, in fact, totally an utterly pointless except for starting the ball rolling and approving the principle of censoring domain names.

Update: Oh, and they are planning to check existing domains too - that will be fun! Lets wait for them to block www.nominetsucksdonkeydicks.co.uk (a name proposed by someone on uknot mailing list).

It is a slippery slope.

[apologies to the actual registrant of these domains, I am not suggesting you are up to anything dodgy here, just using as examples of the problem]

8 comments:

  1. Tens of thousands of false positives... and you imply no true positives. More to the point, how many false negatives were easy to find? Also, as you say, it works on the domain name only - not on the web sites it can be used to permit.

    This is a "sounds like it would be a good idea" (to some) step that is actually very far from it. If it can be shown to be so flawed it has to be abandoned, maybe the nanny state will have to admit it can't do this.

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  2. Once again, Nominet has had a consultation around a decision, and then done exactly what they wanted to do regardless of the outcome of that consultation. They were once a fairly transparent, member-led organisation, yet of late I'm increasingly disillusioned with their suitability as "trusted guardian[s] of the .uk domain name space". But there appears to be little one can do to rectify this.

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  3. This sort of crap is one of the reasons I got a .net domain, I was already familiar with some of the Nominet stupidity. No doubt someone will now tell me of similar issues around .net registrations, but at least it's shorter to type.

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    1. Well quite - we used to always recommend .uk domains to people as Nominet were one of the sanest registries. I am doubting that now.

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  4. It's high time .gb was resurrected and then we could all turn our backs on Nominet.

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  5. " check any domain registration that signals sex crime content or is in itself a sex crime....

    In spite of this, the report actually states that Nominet should have no role in policing questions of taste or offensiveness on the Internet!"

    I'm not seeing any contradiction here - They're saying they should have no role in deciding what is tasteless or offensive, but that they should act on things that are *crimes* or (importantly) things that seem to signal crimes.

    I can certainly see concerns about Nominet being asked to be the arbiters of what "signals sex crime", but that isn't quite the same as them having a role in policing taste or offensiveness.

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  6. As you say, huge problems with this:-
    i) Any UK domain, explicit or innocent can be warped with sub-domains. children.to.fuck.me.uk or sex-with-c.hildren.co.uk are not going to be stopped or checked.
    ii) Not completely relevant, but any other domain in the world is purchasable anyway. By stating they are doing this means the people worried about this will avoid Nominet.
    iii) Anyone publicly stating their intent registering domain names in the UK means you are probably unwise enough to get caught anyway without Nominet watching over every domain registration.
    iv) Darknets (tor/onion routing, freenet etc) are where they are, so this is a complete non-fix for the real problem (as usual) and just here to cause legitimate people more trouble (as usual).

    Having worked in the in a family planning and sex education NGO many years ago, where -shock,horror- youth, sex and even children were all discussed, sometimes even in the same sentence, to solve and prevent problems (Note to Nominet, 11 year old children being forcibly married off or underage sex are still problems in this world which other people are trying to prevent)

    I really wouldn't have wanted a visit from the police at my workplace just because I registered a domain "youthsexuality.co.uk" or "childrenformarriage.co.uk" for a departments project...

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  7. We need to get the browser companies to do an SHA1 encoding of the domain name and look that up in DNS instead. Or make a tiny browser plugin to do that.

    Then try to register e2b99da1225033a2df42330a33ccb7e2fcfc0645.com and see how much time they wanted to spend trying to decide if that should be illegal or not :)

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