Posted November 4, 2009 10:02 am by with 14 comments

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this page

You know that domain name that you don’t want anyone to know that you own? The one that you’re either testing out some SEO stuff that’s in the "gray hat" area? The one you don’t want your competitors to know that you own? The one you’ve been considering for sending spam emails?

Yeah, that one.

Well, the Ninth Circuit court of appeals just ruled that using any kind of domain privacy service could get you into legal trouble:

[P]rivate registration is a service that allows registration of a domain name in a manner that conceals the actual registrant’s identity from the public absent a subpoena. We fail to perceive any vagueness on this point. Based on the plain meaning of the relevant terms discussed above, private registration for the purpose of concealing the actual registrant’s identity would constitute "material falsification." Defendants assert that many innocent people who privately register without the requisite intent may be subject to investigation for violation of § 1037 until their intent can be determined, allowing for abuse by enforcement authorities. This may be so, but it does not make the statute unconstitutionally vague.

Simply using a domain privacy service doesn’t make you a criminal, but the ruling appears to suggest that the use of such a service–especially in the use of sending spam emails–could be interpreted as trying to evade identification.

You probably don’t have to worry about the local sheriff knocking on your door, but as far as this ruling goes, no matter what your intentions, concealing your ownership of a domain is–by the letter of the law–material falsification.

Legal eagles, feel free to weigh in with your expert opinions!

  • Ridiculous. The whole whois db setup is already screwed up. Why do you have to put your name and information in public record? I can understand the gov’t needing it for ownership claims, but to have it so easily accessible to the rest of the world is stupid. If I’m registering a domain for personal use, I don’t want to broadcast my home address to the world! I also don’t want to use my work address because then there are potential issues with who owns it (the owner of the address, or me?).
    .-= Nathan J. Brauer´s last blog ..Yay for Investigations! =-.

    • Yeah, I hear ya. Maybe ICANN needs it’s own sanctioned, privacy service.

  • Saas

    This is why I use a Company Name for my contact, a PO Box for my address and a VOIP phone that is set to ring straight to voicemail for a my contact phone number.

  • Ed

    Typical inane 9th Circuit ruling.

    Using a private registration should further the prosecution’s case
    WHEN a crime has been committed with such an account.

    But a sweeping ruling shows that court is still disconnected from reality.

  • This is a bad, overarching, ruling. There’s nothing stopping government officials from getting private registration data when it’s warranted.

    I think Ed hit the nail on the head that WHEN a crime is committed private registration should, then, be an issue.

    Otherwise using a private registration service is a way for us who own domains to avoid spammers.
    .-= Elmer´s last blog ..Lessons From Milk =-.

  • Yes. Let’s set up a government run Do Not Call registry, encourage people to get an Annual Credit Report for identity protection, etc.; Then, tell the millions of website owners that they *have* to publish their contact details to the world via Whois. Left hand, meet Right hand.

    Private registration is no different than a corporation or a trust fund or estate. The registrar simply becomes a contact agent.

    It would be nice if ICANN would create a universal privacy service, but that is probably wishful thinking.
    .-= Scott Bowman´s last blog ..Panther Spotted =-.

  • @Ed – You said it all with ‘Ninth Circuit’. Now if they could just get rid of that pesky Pledge of Allegiance thing then we can rest easy.
    .-= Frank Reed´s last blog ..The Most Bestest, Ginormous Social Media and Internet Marketing Guru Expert to Ever Walk the Planet and Breathe In Your Air ……. Ever! =-.

  • It is about what I would have expected from a country that is constantly running scared of its own shadow. Brave when it comed to dropping smart bombs on innocent people, but scared to death that the guy like me who runs a website for fun may assist their hidden enemies.
    Where is your backbone USA citizens?
    No doubt the same stupid set of reasoning will perculate down to us in the UK, as our useless PM is a constant supporter of your mad policies.

    • How insulting. This was a JUDICIAL ruling. “USA citizens” did not vote for this. I am a “USA citizen” and I don’t support this.
      .-= Nathan J. Brauer´s last blog ..Yay for Investigations! =-.

  • John Bull

    No doubt the same set of judges will find a way of making this apply to those of us who do not live in the US, even though ICANN is now supposed to be independant of the US Gov.

  • Most every time courts encounter domain registration privacy, its in connection with fraud. And it is routinely used for slowing investigations. Since I support such private registrations, I also support added penalties for those who use such registrations for the obvious purpose of evading legal responsibility.

  • Quite nice and interesting post thanks for share………