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ICANN and the Data Quality Act: Part V

This is the fourth part of a multi-part series reported by ICANNfocus. This part focuses on Securing the Quality of WHOIS Data. Read previous parts: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Information for which ICANN has responsibility includes the WHOIS databases. ICANN has been given specific responsibilities for these databases under: 1) their contract with the U.S. government's Department of Commerce to perform the technical management of the Internet; and 2) their Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Commerce.

The second modification to the ICANN's contract with the Department, signed September 16, 2003, includes a reporting requirement under which ICANN is to document procedures for "a root zone WHOIS service." In addition to their contractual duties, ICANN has specific responsibilities for WHOIS data quality under their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department. The MOU gives ICANN explicit responsibility for improving the quality of the WHOIS data. The MOU states that "ICANN agrees to...implement measures to secure improved accuracy of WHOIS data." The required measures include publication of two reports regarding systems to improve WHOIS accuracy. The first of these reports is due March 31st of this year.

The MOU does not include a direct mechanism for the public or affected parties to seek redress for grievances of any actions or non-actions taken by ICANN or the Department under the MOU. However, the Data Quality Act does provide a formal mechanism for affected parties to seek correction of information that has been disseminated by the Department or ICANN as a result of the MOU.

Information is subject to the Data Quality Act if it is publicly disseminated by federal agencies or "sponsored" by an agency. The Data Quality guidelines of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA, the operating unit within the Department of Commerce that is responsible for ICANN) defined sponsored information as "situations where the Agency has directed a third party to distribute or release information, or where the Agency has the authority to review and approve the information before release." With regard to WHOIS-related information, the MOU directs ICANN to publish the detailed reports. Furthermore, the MOU states that the Department will "provide general oversight of activities conducted pursuant to this Agreement." Thus, information that ICANN disseminates, or directs be disseminated, pursuant to the MOU is "sponsored" information subject to the Data Quality Act.

Conclusions

1. ICANN, under their MOU with the U.S. Department of Commerce, has the duty to improve the quality of WHOIS data.

2. WHOIS-related Information that ICANN disseminates under the MOU or contract with the Department of Commerce is subject to the Data Quality Act.

3. The Data Quality Act provides a formal mechanism for affected stakeholders to seek and obtain correction of WHOIS-related information that ICANN-disseminates pursuant to their agreements with the Department of Commerce.

For more information, please go to ICANNfocus.org

By Bruce Levinson, SVP, Regulatory Intervention - Center for Regulatory Effectiveness
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