A committee of the US House of Representatives yesterday considered a law that would mandate jail time or increased civil penalties for people who break the law and use a fraudulently registered internet domain name to do so.
The Fraudulent Online Identity Sanctions Act, HR 3754, would stop short of actually making it an offense to register a domain with inaccurate data, but it would allow it to be considered during sentencing or the damages phase of a civil trial.
FOISA is sponsored by Texas Republican Lamar Smith and California Democrat Howard Berman. Both are senior members of the House subcommittee on intellectual property, which met yesterday.
Smith reportedly said the government must play a greater role in punishing those who conceal their identities online, when they are committing a federal criminal offense or in violation of an intellectual property right.
The law would add a maximum of seven years to a felony jail sentence, if the convict knowingly provided material and misleading false contact information to a domain name registrar, domain name registry, or other domain name registration authority.
In civil cases, such as a copyright or trademark infringement, inaccurate data provided at registration or not updated as necessary, would be a sign of willfulness, which in US law means the court can triple the monetary damages.
There are concerns however that inaccurate contact data would be used to show willfulness even when the reasons for the inaccuracy are unrelated to the alleged infringement.
The introduction of FOISA is drawing attention to the ongoing debate over privacy versus completeness and accuracy in the so-called Whois databases which list who registered which domain name.
Currently, when a person registers a name in any of the ICANN-regulated domains, such as .com, they have to agree to provide their name, address, e-mail address and telephone number. The registrar is contractually obligated to make that data publicly searchable.
Big copyright interests, such as the movie and music industries, are frequently frustrated by inaccurate Whois data making it harder to track down suspected pirates who publish their copyrighted works online.
Privacy advocates say people should be able to register a domain and publish online without fear of recrimination. There has been anecdotal evidence demonstrating that domain registration data is being used for stalking or other nefarious purposes.
Other leading registrars, including Networks Solutions Inc and Go Daddy Software Inc, have anonymous registration services, where customers pay an extra fee to have the registrar hide their real contact info by providing a post office box type service.
The current proposed legislation could also make for some interesting jurisdictional debates, given that there are more than 240 top-level domains (TLDs) in the world.
Even though it does not specify that registrant data should be public, FOISA as it is currently written would apply to registrations under all TLDs, including domains that are bound by stronger national privacy laws, such as those in Europe.
This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire