Domain name system (DNS)

Updates

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is continuing its work on determining how the organisation and the generic top-level domain (gTLD) registries and registrars could comply with ICANN policies and contractual requirements while at the same time being in line with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In an interim compliance model for handling domain name registration data, ICANN is proposing changing the currently publicly available WHOIS services (registration directory services) to an approach requiring a layered/tired access model for WHOIS. The model 'maintains robust collection of registration data (including registrant, administrative, and technical contact information), but restricts most personal data to layered/tiered access via an accreditation program to be developed in consultation with the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), data protection agencies, and contracted parties with full transparency to the ICANN community'. In line with these approach, 'approved user groups', such as law enforcement agencies and intellectual property lawyers could have access to registrans' data if they meet certain criteria and limitations to be included as part of the accreditation programme.​

In 2010, the well-known copyright infringement case against the founders of the Pirate Bay in Sweden, resulted in prison sentences for the defendants. However, case about the domain names 'piratebay.se' and 'thepiratebay.se' that were used for copyrright infigement continued. In 2013, action was taken against one of the founders of the Pirate Bay (registered holder of the Pirate Bay domain names) and the Internet Foundation in Sweden (IIS), responsible for the top-level domain ‘.se’. The Stockholm District Court and the Svea Court of Appeal found that the founder was guilty of copyright infringement and that the domain name could be forfeited to the state under the Copyright Act's rules on forfeiture. However, the Svea Court of Appeal found  that the IIS do not have the power to de-register the domain name, as it did not belong to them. The founder appealed the case on the grounds that forfeiting rules apply to property, and domain names are not property. The Supreme court referred to the European Council Framework Decision 2005/212/JHA which notes that property ‘includes property of any description, whether corporeal or incorporeal, movable or immovable, and legal documents or instruments evidencing title to or interest in such property’ and instrumentalities ‘means any property used or intended to be used, in any manner, wholly or in part, to commit a criminal offence or criminal offences’, which means that domain names are property for the purposes of forfeiture.

The European Commission, through its Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, has sent a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), expressing concerns over the organisation's proposed models for ensuring compliance between its WHOIS policy and the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In the letter, the Commission asks ICANN to delay its final decision on an interim model, and to instead allow for further 'discussion with all stakeholders involved, as well as the data protection authorities'. It also noted that the proposed models are abstract, and difficult to assess regarding their scope and impact, therefore encouraging ICANN to further develop possible options 'to balance the various legal requirements, needs, and interests'.​ The letter came a few weeks after the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, and the Commissioner for the Security Union wrote to ICANN's CEO on the same topic GDPR compliance.

Pages

The Domain Name System (DNS) handles Internet domain names (such as www.google.com) and converts them to Internet Protocol (IP) numbers (and the other way around). This makes it easier for Internet users to access locations in the Internet such as websites, by simply looking for the domain name of the website, instead of the IP number associated to it.

From an infrastrastructure point of view, the DNS consists of root servers, top-level domain (TLD) servers, and a large number of DNS servers located around the world.

The DNS includes  generic top-level domain (gTLD) and country code top-level domains (ccTLD). There are now over 1200 gTLDs, ranging from traditional ones such as .com, .net, and .org, to new gTLDs (introduced starting 2014) such as .pub,, .ngo, or .游戏 (game). While most gTLDs have an open registration policy, allowing the registration of domain names by any interested individual or entity, there are several gTLDs that are restricted to specific groups. For example, only authorised banking institutions can register domain names under .bank. ccTLDs are two-letter TLDs designating countries or territories (such as .uk for the United Kingdom, .cn for China, and .br for Brazil).

 

Each gTLD and ccTLD is managed by a registry, whose main responsibility is to maintain and administer a database with all registered domain names. For example,  .com  is managed by VeriSign, while .uk is managed by Nominet. The actual registration of domain names, by end users (called registrants) is performed though registrars. In the case of gTLDs, the registry and registrar functions are clearly separated. For some ccTLDs, the registry can also act as registrar.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) ensures the overall coordination of the DNS by developing and implementing policies governing the operation and evolution of the system. For gTLDs, ICANN concludes agreements with registries and accredits registrars. ccTLDs have a special status, in that ICANN does not set rules for how they are administered and managed. There are, however, several ccTLD registries that have concluded some types of agreements with ICANN (such as accountability frameworks, memoranda of understanding, and exchange of letters).

The operational coordination of the DNS is performed through ICANN’s affiliate Public Technical Identifiers (PTI).

The creation of new generic top level domains (gTLDs)

In 2012, after six years of consultations and development of a new policy, ICANN launched the New gTLD Program, opening up the DNS beyond the 22 gTLDs existing at that point. Under the programme, any organisation in the world could apply for a new gTLD, including in non-Latin language scripts, as long as it complied with a series of criteria established in the so-called New gTLD Applicant Guidebook. The introduction of new gTLDs was received with enthusiasm by some stakeholders, who saw this programme as an opportunity to enhance competition and consumer choice in the domain name market. Others expressed concern, especially in relation to the potential need for trademark holders to undertake defensive registrations of domain names in multiple gTLDs, for the purpose of avoiding cybersquatting.

Other concerns were raised by governments represented in ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), who called for measures aimed to ensure the protection of end-users and preserve competition on the gTLD market. As an example, in the case of gTLDs representing regulated sectors (such as .bank and .pharm), governments have proposed measures aimed to ensure that only entities having the appropriate authorisations to operate in such sectors could register domain names in such gTLDs.

Although the debate on the introduction of new gTLDs continues, the programme is up and running. There are also discussions within the ICANN community over the opportunity of launching subsequent rounds of applications for new gTLDs.

For more details on the current status of the New gTLD Program, consult the dedicated process page.

The management of country code top level domains (ccTLDs)

The management of ccTLDs involves three important issues. The first concerns the often politically controversial decision regarding the registration of codes for countries and entities with unclear or contested international status. From the beginning, IANA used the principle of allocating domain names in accordance with the ISO 3166 standard for country codes.

The second issue concerns who should manage ccTLDs. Currently, there are several ccTLD registry models in place, with the registry functions being performed by public entities, private companies, or multistakeholder structures. In some countries, the management of ccTLDs is subject to government regulations. Some governments who initially had no involvement in ccTLD management have been trying to gain control over their country domains, seen as national resources. For example, South Africa used its sovereign rights as an argument in win control of its ccTLD. Transition (re-delegation) of a ccTLD to a new registry is approved by ICANN only if there is no opposition from any of the interested stakeholders within the concerned country.

The third issue relates to the fact that, unlike the case of gTLDs, ICANN imposes no rules as to who and how should manage a ccTLD. ICANN goes only as far as delegating or re-delegating ccTLDs on the basis of some high-level guidelines aimed at ensuring that the ccTLD registry is technically competent to manage it, and has support from the local community. In 2005, ICANN’s GAC adopted a set of Principles and Guidelines for the delegation and administration of country code top level domains, intended to serve as a guide to the relationship between governments, ccTLDs, and ICANN. Although some ccTLD registries (e.g. Brazil, Chile, Netherlands) have concluded some type of agreements with ICANN, and many registries are represented in ICANN’s Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO), there are several ccTLDs that have shown reluctance to become part of the ICANN system.

The creation of internationalised domain names (IDNs)

The Internet was originally a predominantly English-language medium. Through rapid growth, it has become a global communication facility with an increasing number of non-English-speaking users. For a long time, the lack of multilingual features in the Internet infrastructure was one of the main limits of its future development.

In May 2010, after a long testing period and political uncertainties, ICANN started approving TLDs in a wide variety of scripts, including Chinese, Arabic, and Cyrillic. IDNs have been introduced in several countries and territories as equivalent to their Latin country code top level domains (ccTLDs). For example, in China, 中国 has been introduced in addition to .cn, while in Russia, рф has been introduced in addition to .ru. IDNs are also part of ICANN’s new gTLD programme, allowing for the registration of new top level domains (gTLDs) in scripts other than the Latin one; for example, .сайт (website) and .онлайн (online) are among the new TLDs available to the public.

The introduction of IDNs is considered to be one of the main successes of the Internet governance regime. However, limitations remain, as universal acceptance is still a challenge when it comes to issues such as functional IDN e-mail addresses and recognition of IDNs by search engines.

Transition of the US government role

Since its creation, in 1998, and until 1 October 2016, ICANN managed the DNS on the basis of a contract with the US government, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). In line with this contract, the US government acted as steward of the DNS, as every major change made within the system (such as the approval of a new gTLD) required its formal validation. In March 2014, NTIA  announced its intention to transition this stewardship role to the global multistakeholder community. As requested by NTIA, ICANN launched a process for the development of a transition proposal. At the same time, work began on the elaboration of a set of recommendations for enhancing ICANN’s accountability towards the Internet community (seen as a necessary step in the context of the transition). The work carried out by the ICANN community resulted in a transition and an accountability proposals, which were accepted by the US government in June 2016, as being compliant with its requirements.

On 1 October 2016, the IANA functions contract between the US government and ICANN expired, and the stewardship of the IANA functions was transitioned to the global multistakeholder community. In practical terms, the transition meant two major changes within ICANN: (1) the establishment of PTI as the IANA functions operator, and, therefore, a more clear separation between ICANN’s technical and policy-making functions; (2) the creation of an ‘empowered community’ – made up of most of ICANN’s advisory committees and supporting organisations – able to enforce a set of community powers such as removing members of the ICANN Board and rejecting ICANN budgets or changes to the ICANN bylaws. See IANA transition and ICANN accountability for more details.

Events

Actors

(WIPO)

WIPO has developed, together with the

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WIPO has developed, together with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). Under this policy, WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Centre provides dispute resolution services for second level domain name registrations under generic top-level domains (gTLDs). The Centre also administers disputes under a specific policies adopted by some gTLD registries (e.g. .aero, .asia, .travel). In addition, the Centre offers domain name dispute resolution services for over 70 country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). WIPO has developed a ccTLD Program, with the aim to provide advice to many ccTLD registries on the establishment of dispute resolution procedures.

(ICANN)

ICANN is responsible for coordinating the evolution and operation of the Domain Name System.

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ICANN is responsible for coordinating the evolution and operation of the Domain Name System. The organisation coordinates the allocation and assignment of names in the root zone of the DNS, and the development and implementation of policies concerning the registration of second-level domain names in generic top-level domains (gTLDs). It also facilitates the coordination and evolution of the DNS root name server system. When it comes to gTLDs, ICANN concludes agreements with registry operators (for the administration of each gTLD), and accredits registrars. In the case of country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), ICANN only goes as far as (re)delegating them on the basis of some high-level guidelines.

(IANA)

IANA is responsible for the operational coordination of the DNS, through the so-called IANA functions, current

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IANA is responsible for the operational coordination of the DNS, through the so-called IANA functions, currently performed by ICANN’s affiliate Public Technical Identifiers. IANA operates and maintains the DNS root zone, through, for example, evaluating requests to change operators of top-level domains and ensuring day-to-day maintenance of the details of existing operators. It also operates and maintains the .int and .arpa domains, and keeps a repository of Internationalised Domain Names ‘tables’ which document the permissible characters for different languages and scripts provided for registration by different TLD registries. In addition, IANA acts as operator of the Key Signing Key for the DNS root zone.

(LACTLD)

LACTLD works on representing the interest of the ccTLD registries in the Latin America and the Caribbean in th

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LACTLD works on representing the interest of the ccTLD registries in the Latin America and the Caribbean in the domain name space, and on supporting the development of the region’s ccTLDs. To achieve these goals, the organisation coordinates the elaboration of joint ccTLD-related policies, promotes the adoption of best practices among its members, and organises events aimed at facilitating cooperation at regional level (such at regular LACTLD meetings and policy and legal workshops). The organisation also carries studies on the state of the domain name environment in the region, and engages in cooperation with other regional and global organisations active in the field.

(AfTLD)

AfTLD activities are aimed at assisting African ccTLD registries in the development of effective and efficient

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AfTLD activities are aimed at assisting African ccTLD registries in the development of effective and efficient policies, and in strengthening their operation and administrative capacities. The organisation also provides a space for regional ccTLD registries to exchange information and collaborate on issues of common interest. In addition, it represents the interest of its members in the global Internet governance processes, and it runs an awareness and outreach programme designed to develop members’ capacity to participate in such processes. A Technical Working Group drives the AfTLD’s technical training programme, and a Research WG is focused on research activities.

( APTLD)

ApTLD, composed of ccTLD registries from the Asia Pacific region, dedicates its activities to assisting member

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ApTLD, composed of ccTLD registries from the Asia Pacific region, dedicates its activities to assisting members in developing their operational, technical, and administrative capacities. It does so by providing training on technical issues (such as registry operation, the Domain Name System Security Extensions - DNSSEC, Internet Protocol version 6 - IPv6, and cybersecurity), as well as support in policy development processes. The organisation also facilitates exchanges of information and best practices among member registries, and works on strengthening their capacities to actively engage in global Internet policy making processes.

Instruments

Resolutions & Declarations

ITU Resolution 133: Role of Administrations of Member States in the Management of Internationalized (Multilingual) Domain Names (2014)
WHO Resolution 66.24 - 'eHealth Standardization and Interoperability' (2013)

Standards

Request for Comments (RFC) dealing with Domain Name Systems (2015)

Other Instruments

Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (WSIS) (2005)

Resources

GNSO - Non-Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC) Policy Session (2017)

Multimedia

Mapping the Online World (2016)
IDN Infographic: Access Domain Names in Your Language (2015)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

Monocentric Cyberspace: The Primary Market for Internet Domain Names (2016)
Internet Fragmentation: An Overview (2016)

Reports

State of DNSSEC Deployment 2016 (2016)
Enabling Growth and Innovation in the Digital Economy (2016)
Middle East and Adjoining Countries DNS Study (2016)
Root Zone KSK Rollover Plan (2016)
World Report on Internationalised Domain Names (2015)
The Domain Name Industry Brief (2015)
Report of the Director General to the WIPO Assemblies (2015)
An Analysis of new GTLD Universal Acceptance in the Web Environment (2015)
SSAC Report on the IANA Functions Contract (2014)
EURid-UNESCO World report on Internationalised Domain Names Deployment 2012 (2012)
Impact on Root Server Operations and Provisions Due to New gTLDs (2012)
Infoblox DNS Threat Index

Conference proceedings

GAC and ccNSO Meeting (2017)

GIP event reports

Internet Governance or the Question of Legitimacy (2018)
Discussions Related to Geographic Names of Countries and Territories at ICANN60 (2017)
Jurisdiction Issues in Focus at ICANN60 (2017)
DNS Abuse Discussions at ICANN60 (2017)
GAC Sessions on the Implementation of New Bylaws (2017)
GNSO Review of all Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs) in All gTLDs PDP Working Group Face-to-Face Meeting (2017)
GAC Session on New gTLD Policies (2017)
GAC Meeting with the ICANN Board (2017)
GAC Meeting to Discuss CCWG Accountability WS2 Matters (2017)
GAC and GNSO Meeting (2017)
GAC and ALAC Meeting (2017)
Cross-Community Discussion on Next-Generation gTLD Registration Directory Services (RDS) Policy Requirements (2017)
Cross Community Discussion – Geographic Names at the Top Level (2017)
At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) and Regional Leaders Wrap Up – Part 2 (2017)
At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) and Regional Leaders Wrap Up – Part 1 (2017)
GDPR and Its Potential Impact: Looking for Practical Solutions (2017)
GAC Session on 2-Character Country Codes as Second Level Domains (2017)
Empowered Community’s Cross Community Forum on Proposed Fundamental Bylaws Amendments (2017)
Keynote Speech at EuroDIG 2017 – Göran Marby, ICANN (2017)
Domain Names Innovation and Competition (2017)
ICANN58: GNSO Registration Directory Services (RDS) Policy Development Process Working Group Meeting (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting ICANN Board and GAC (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting ICANN Board & Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting ICANN Board & Commercial Stakeholders Group (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting GAC and ALAC (2017)
ICANN58: GNSO-GAC Facilitated Dialogue on IGO & Red Cross Protections (Session 2) (2017)
ICANN58: GAC Discussions on New Generic Top-Level Domains (2017)
ICANN58: GAC Discussions on Issues Related to ICANN Accountability and New ICANN Bylaws (2017)
ICANN58: New gTLD Auction Proceeds Cross Community Working Group Meeting (2017)
ICANN58: Moving Towards a Data-Driven ICANN (Cross-Community Session) (2017)
ICANN58: ICANN GDD New gTLD Program Reviews (2017)
ICANN58: Public Forum 1 & 2 (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting ICANN Board & Customer Standing Committee (2017)
ICANN58: Opening Ceremony (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting GAC and ccNSO (2017)
ICANN58: GNSO New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process Working Group Meeting (2017)

Other resources

Proposal to Transition the Stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to the Global Multistakeholder Community (2016)
CCWG-Accountability Supplemental Final Proposal on Work Stream 1 Recommendations (ICANN Accountability proposal) (2016)
Advisory on Measurements of the Root Server System (2016)
The IANA Functions: An Introduction to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions (2015)
Root Zone Administrator Proposal Related to the IANA Functions Stewardship Transition (2015)
NTIA's role in Root Zone Management (2014)
Policy Brief on the Internet Root Zone (2014)
DNSSEC: Securing your Domain Names (2014)
Beginner’s Guide to Domain Names (2010)
The Internet Domain Name System Explained for Non-Experts (2004)
Statistics for New gTLDs
New gTLD Program Statistics
DNSSEC Deployment Report

Processes

Session reports

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WSIS Forum 2018

12th IGF 2017

WSIS Forum 2017

IGF 2016

WSIS Forum 2016

WSIS10HL

IGF 2015

 

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