Nominet formalises approach to tackling criminal activity on .UK domains

3rd April 2014

Change to registration policy comes into effect from 4 May 2014

Amendments to the terms and conditions governing registrations of popular .uk domain names such as .co.uk and .org.uk will take effect next month, to formalise procedures for suspending domain names used to carry out online crime.

The changes which come into effect on 4 May, support a new policy for Nominet, the .uk registry, that builds on established practice.

The revised terms and conditions published by Nominet expressly prohibit any .uk domains being used to carry out criminal activity. It means that Nominet can quickly suspend a domain name when alerted to its use for criminal activity by the police or other law enforcement agencies, such as National Crime Agency, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) or the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

At the same time, restrictions will be implemented that prohibit the registration of domains that promote or incite serious sexual offences, following the recommendations of Lord Macdonald QC.

Lesley Cowley OBE, CEO of Nominet says: “As the .uk registry, we are determined to play our part in a wider community which needs to work together to protect internet users from criminality online. Trust in the UK namespace is vital, so we are doing everything a trustworthy registry should.

“It’s established practice at Nominet to cooperate with law enforcement agencies – we believe that the UK namespace has an enviable record of trust and safety. However we’re taking the opportunity following Lord Macdonald’s review to make it clear that criminal use of a domain name is an explicit breach of our terms of registration, and to make it clear how we will respond.”

Nominet will not police the .uk namespace, or judge whether the content associated with a domain name is criminal. However, at the point of registration, it will make its own assessment regarding registration of domains names it believes could encourage serious sexual offences.

How it will work in practice – criminal domains

Under the new terms and conditions, law enforcement agencies will be able to provide Nominet with notification that specified domains are being used for criminal activity. Nominet will check each domain before taking action, ensuring that no administrative errors have caused those domains to be incorrectly flagged, e.g. that the domain name is currently in use, and that the domain name has not been transferred or cancelled between the origination of the request and the point of suspension.

Following this, Nominet will notify and work with its registrars in the usual way to suspend the domain names in question.

Any complaints regarding grounds for suspension will be referred back to the law enforcement agencies, while Nominet will check that all appropriate operational procedures have been followed correctly. 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.

Nominet will report after six months, and quarterly thereafter, on the nature and volume of requests received by each law enforcement agency, and the outcome of any complaints.

Nominet wishes to thank all of those who contributed to policy discussions on these topics over recent years, from policy consultations to the Lord Macdonald review, all of which has helped inform Nominet’s decision-making.

How it will work in practice – domain names that signal serious sexual offences

Nominet will no longer allow a domain name to be registered if it meets two criteria: firstly, if it appears, on the face of it, to indicate, comprise or promote a serious sexual offence and secondly, where there is no reasonable or legitimate use for that domain. Domain names failing this test will be suspended and the registrant and registrar informed.

Registrations can be made in the usual way. New domain registrations will automatically be run through a process which checks domains against the scope of Lord Macdonald’s recommendations. Each domain flagged by the automated process will be checked by a senior manager to ensure no false positives go through. Nominet will then notify the registrant and registrar if we consider a registration to be in breach. Registrants have 30 days in which to appeal this assessment, and any unresolved disagreements will be referred to an independent external body for review.

If it receives a complaint about an existing registration, Nominet will apply the same test, and in addition would refer a complaint regarding content to law enforcement.

Nominet will report after six months, and quarterly thereafter, on the number of domains suspended as a result of this change to policy.

Cowley concludes: “We applied this criteria to existing domain names and found only eight that were problematic. So we expect fewer than one in a million registrations will be affected by this second change. As with all our policies, we will continue to review the impact and adapt them as necessary.”