Insights Domain name abuse: UK Government publishes outcome of consultation


On 11 July 2023, a commencement order was laid before Parliament the purpose of which is to add provisions to the Communications Act 2003 (CA 2003) to provide the Secretary of State with powers of intervention in relation to internet domain registries which fail to address serious, relevant abuses of their domain names, posing significant risk to the UK electronic communications networks and its users. The powers would apply to in-scope UK-related domain name registries and would only be exercised when there is a “serious relevant failure” at the registries to comply with certain prescribed practices and requirements. On 20 July 2023, the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (“DSIT”) published a consultation seeking feedback on new Regulations setting out the policies that registries should apply in order to avoid the threshold being met, triggering the exercise of the powers. The Regulations would list the prescribed practices considered to be an unfair use or misuse of a domain name, and the prescribed requirements that registries would have to implement to address complaints related to domain names.

DSIT has just published a summary of the Consultation responses. Respondents commented, for example, on DSIT’s list of activities (and definitions) that would constitute misuse or unfair use of a domain name. The proposed list of misuses included malware, botnets, pharming, phishing, spam emails, and domain names which are registered to promote or display child sexual abuse material, and the list of unfair uses included cybersquatting, including typosquatting.

The consultation also set out a proposed list of principles which would underpin the design of a dispute resolution procedure that registries in scope would be required to have in place for dealing with complaints in relation to their domains. These included ensuring flexibility so that the rules established in existing relevant registries’ dispute resolution procedures can be met, that the procedure is not overly burdensome, fair and equitable, that it does not preclude resort to judicial proceedings, that disputes are resolved expeditiously and at low cost and that the procedure is clearly set out in an open and transparent way. Amongst other things, respondents commented on how terms such as “burdensome”, “expeditiously”, “low cost” and “fair and equitable” would be defined, pointed to existing dispute resolution services provided by ICANN and Nominet as useful examples, and recommended an appeals process to protect freedom of speech.

DSIT will now consider how the Regulations can be designed to meet the concerns raised with a view to publishing its policy position over the next few months.

For more information, click here.