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Home > Privacy and Government > Government Threats to Privacy > Public Records > Government Databases > WHOIS Databases

WHOIS Databases

WHOIS databases are the lists of names, e-mail addresses, postal addresses, and telephone numbers for the holders of the millions of Internet domain names. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees domain name registries for many of the most important top-level domains, requires disclosure of this contact information. However, many registries offer ways to mask personal information, consistent with ICANN rules.

Required disclosure helps people learn the veracity of Web sites and discover who is responsible for the content on them. This can reduce fraud, defamation, and copyright and trademark violations. On the other hand, it makes anonymous speech more difficult and reveals personal information that is regarded as private by some.

The correct approach to this question depends on whether ICANN is a governmental entity or a private company. It has characteristics of both.

Because ICANN exercises control of the registries and WHOIS databases under authority granted by the U.S. Commerce Department, the databases are best treated as public records. Information collection should be minimized, but, as a public record, it should be kept open to public scrutiny unless secrecy will have a substantial role in preventing identified harms to the public.


WHOIS Database Lookup Page, Network Solutions

Internet Privacy Advocate Web page, Network Solutions

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers Web site

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[updated 04/08/04]

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