US Congress directs NTIA to work with ICANN to expedite access to domain name registration information

On 21 December 2020, the US Congress approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 providing a US$900 billion stimulus package for COVID-19 relief and to fund government operations. In the joint explanatory statements (JES) accompanying the act, the Congress directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to work with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to expedite the establishment of a global access model that provides law enforcement, intellectual property rights holders, and third parties with timely access to accurate domain name registration information for legitimate purposes. NTIA is also encouraged to require registries and registrars based in the USA to make public accurate domain name registration information. As ICANN notes, even if these provisions do not appear in the legislative texts, NTIA is expected to carry out the actions that are directed in the JES; if it does not perform as directed, it may be penalised in future appropriations. Encouraged actions, on the other hand, carry less weight and a penalty is less likely. It its analysis of the JES, ICANN notes that the request for NTIA (which represents the US government in ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee) to work with the organisation to expedite the establishment of a global access model to registrant data is not something new: ‘the direction is for NTIA to continue its efforts and perhaps push the ICANN community to more quickly develop an access model that works for law enforcement, intellectual property owners, and others with legitimate interests’. The encouragement for NTIA to require US-based registries and registrars to collect and make public accurate domain name registration data is seen by ICANN as being ‘not as consistent with the multitakeholder model’, but ‘aspirational’ and with a less clear potential impact: ‘It appears to hint that if NTIAand the ICANN community can’t develop a robust access model, Congress could entertain more forceful measures that would impose requirements on U.S.-based registries and registrars to collect and publish domain name registration information.’ The bill was signed into law by the US President.