ICANN held its 25th Annual General Meeting in Hamburg during October. As things settle after the meeting, there are four key points to reflect on. Nick Wood of the Cyberspace Team and Sophie Hey provide an update.
1 RDRS is coming soon
The RDRS is the system being developed by ICANN to help streamline requests for the disclosure of redacted registration (or WHOIS) data. It will be a single point through which brand owners, law enforcement and others can submit requests for data disclosure. If the registrar sponsoring the domain name is participating, then the request will be forwarded to them for consideration and action.
The RDRS will not return the actual data, nor will there be a guarantee of disclosure. Each request will be considered by the relevant registrar, who will make their own determination whether or not there is a legal basis for disclosure. If the registrar determines that there is a legal basis for disclosure, they will disclose the data directly to the requestor. Registrars are expected to update the RDRS to reflect the outcome of their decision, i.e. whether the data was disclosed in full or in part, or whether the request was refused.
If a registrar is not participating, the RDRS will reflect this. The system will enable a requestor to create a temporary request in the standard form, however, which can then be downloaded and sent direct to the registrar.
Registrars have been able to sign up to the system, to familiarise themselves, since September. As of the start of the ICANN 78 meeting, registrars representing 10% of domains under management had done so. This number is expected to increase in the coming weeks, since numerous registrars indicated that they do intend to sign-up but are working through their internal processes for handling requests before they do so.
The intent is that the RDRS will generate data on user demand over a period of up to two years. This data will then be used by the ICANN Board in its consideration of whether to approve the policy recommendations on the creation of the full System for Standardised Access/Disclosure (SSAD), with additional functionality such as accreditation of requestors, and to make this compulsory for registrars and registries. If requestors do not use the system this will fuel the narrative that the lack of demand demonstrates that there are no problems in gaining access to the non-public data on request, and thus no need for the RDRS or SSAD systems.
You can stay up to date on the RDRS Launch at this webpage https://www.icann.org/rdrs-en
2 DNS abuse contract amendments
In the gTLD space, the discussions on abuse have resulted in contract amendment negotiations with ICANN, initiated by the Registry Stakeholder Group and Registrar Stakeholder Group.
The contract amendments for registries and registrars define DNS abuse as "malware, botnets, phishing, pharming, and spam (when spam serves as a delivery mechanism for the other forms of DNS abuse listed) and will impose obligations on the contracted parties to take steps to stop or mitigate such abuses, where identified. The proposed amendments are currently out for approval votes of the registries and registrars.
Voting is open until 8 December, and the status of voting is being updated regularly by ICANN on a public webpage. The thresholds are currently indicating that the approval thresholds have been met. Once the ICANN Board has voted to approve the amendments, they will enter into force for registries and registrars 60 days after the Board vote.
The amendments, assuming they pass, are to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement and the Base Registry Agreement, meaning that they will apply to all ICANN accredited registrars, and all gTLD registries on the Base Registry Agreement.
Currently, this is all gTLDs except for .com, .net, .name, .post, .xxx and .aero. However, Verisign has already committed to adopting the language in a form reasonably appropriate for .com and .net, per their March 2020 Letter of Intent.
3 Work continues on next round of new gTLDs
The next application round of new gTLDs is more than a decade in the making. After the last application round in 2012, work began on reviewing the rules and procedures in preparation for further rounds.
This review was known as the Subsequent Procedures working group, or SubPro, and they wrapped up their policy work in 2021. ICANN’s Board formally approved proceeding with the next round earlier this year, under the new leadership of Board Chair Tripti Sinha, and Interim CEO, Sally Costerton.
In August, ICANN published its implementation plan and timeline, which revealed it is targeting April 2026 for the opening of the next application window. This timeline was affirmed by ICANN throughout ICANN 78.
During ICANN 78 there were working sessions for the Implementation Review Team (IRT) on the topics of Applicant Support Program, Registry System Testing, and Application Rounds. This work will continue into 2024.
ICANN Org also provided an update on their current thinking for string similarity guidelines in the upcoming round. These guidelines are intended to help the String Similarity Evaluation Panel in determining whether two strings are confusingly similar and thus unable to co-exist. The assessment will be one of visual similarity.
Factors that are likely to be also considered include aspects such as who is the target user for string – who should be reasonably attentive and have native familiarity with the script and language. The assessment will also need to include in any comparison the potential variant forms of a string, as provided for in the phase 1 work of the IDN EPDP.
4 Governments advise no closed generics in the next round
The Government Advisory Committee (GAC) concluded ICANN 78 by issuing Advice to the ICANN Board that “Prior to the next round of New gTLDs, to ensure that the forthcoming Applicant Guidebook clearly states that Closed Generic gTLD applications will not be considered”.
This comes on the heels of a Facilitated Dialogue between the GNSO, GAC and ALAC on a potential framework for considering closed generics in future rounds. In the absence of policy from the GNSO either allowing or disallowing closed generics, the ICANN Board is likely to adopt this Advice from the GAC.
Assuming this Advice is adopted, it will mean that applicants will not be able to apply to operate “generic” strings as a single-registrant registry. At ICANN, “generic” is considered to be a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things, as opposed to distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others.
Nick Wood is Executive Chairman and Sophie Hey is Policy Advisor with Com Laude in London. Nick is also a member of the MARQUES Cyberspace Team and MARQUES Council