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
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.
Database Lookup Page, Network Solutions
Internet Privacy Advocate Web page, Network Solutions
The Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers Web site