Nominet, the Registry responsible for running the .UK domain name space, has recently published a report on the number of domain names it has suspended further to requests from law enforcement agencies. The figures show that during the 12 month period from 1 November 2015 to 31 October 2016, over 8,000 domain names were suspended. This is more than twice the number of domain name suspensions during the preceding 12 month period in 2014/2015.

As reported in Anchovy News in January and April 2014, Nominet undertook an extensive review of its registration policies further to questions being raised about Nominet’s approach to restrictions on domain name registrations, online pornography and criminal behaviour in the .UK domain name space. This review was chaired by former Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald QC. In the subsequent report, Lord Macdonald made several recommendations that sought to address these issues.

The revised registration policy, which came into effect in May 2014, made it clear that the use of a domain name under .UK for criminal purposes is not permitted and that such domain names may be suspended. Police or law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are able to notify Nominet of any .UK domain names being used for criminal activity. Upon receipt of such a notification, Nominet will then alert and work with its registrars to suspend the concerned domain names. Eventual complaints concerning the suspension are referred back to the LEAs. Under the revised policy, the suspension could be lifted “if the LEAs then inform Nominet that the domain is no longer being used to carry out criminality, if the suspension was incorrectly applied, or if no response is received from the referring agency within 10 working days”.

In addition to this, the revised registration policy also prohibited the registration of domain names that appear to relate to a serious sexual offence. Such domain names are termed “offensive names” under the policy. Thus Nominet, in its sole discretion, will not allow a domain name to remain registered if it appears “to indicate, comprise or promote a serious sexual offence” and where there is “no legitimate use of the domain name which could be reasonably contemplated”. As a result of this, all new domain name registrations are run through an automated process and those that are identified as potentially problematic are highlighted. These domain names are then verified manually to ensure that they are in breach of Nominet’s offensive names policy. Those that are found to be in breach are suspended and the registrant has 30 days to appeal this suspension, with the appeal process being heard by an independent third party.

The revised registration policy enables Nominet to take swift action against any domain name that is being used for an unlawful purpose. The suspension of 8,049 domain names from 1 November 2015 to 31 October 2016 was the result of notifications from eight different LEAs, ranging from the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit to the UK Trading Standards body. The majority of the requests came from the UK Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit which submitted 7,617 suspension requests.

While the figure of 8,049 suspensions may seem high, viewed in the context of over 10,000,000 domain name registrations in the .UK domain name space, the number of suspended domain names is only 0.08%. It is possible that this figure will rise in the coming years as more LEAs become aware of Nominet’s policy and make use of it to tackle crime online.

It is also interesting to note that while the automated process to identify offensive domain names highlighted 2,407 cases, this resulted in only one suspension.

Intellectual property rights holders should note that the revised Nominet registration policy does not supersede the Nominet Dispute Resolution Service (DRS).

First published on Anchovy News: Anchovy® is our a comprehensive and centralised online brand protection service for global domain name strategy, including new gTLDs together with portfolio management and global enforcement using a unique and exclusive online platform developed in-house.