A Responsible Domain Industry Needs a Responsible Registrant Appeals Process

by Brian Cimbolic, Vice President, General Counsel, PIR

As the steward of .ORG, Public Interest Registry is committed to serving as an “exemplary registry” for the DNS. As part of that mission, PIR published our Anti-Abuse Principles last year that serve as our north star to address questions of abuse.

As PIR has stated on many occasions, generally speaking the DNS is not the appropriate place to address questions of website content abuse because of the blunt tool we as a registry have and the collateral damage that can be caused by suspending a domain name for a piece of content. That is why our Anti-Abuse Policy primarily focuses on DNS Abuse rather than website content abuse. That said, there are limited instances of website content that can be so egregious that they require action at the DNS. In 2019, we suspended thousands of domains related to DNS Abuse, but suspended only eleven over website content (8 for distribution of Child Sexual Abuse Materials and 3 for being dedicated to distribution of opioids online). One of the cornerstones of our Anti-Abuse Principles is the commitment to due process.

We do not want that commitment to just be lip service, so we are offering a two-step process to address questions of our anti-abuse efforts. Any registrant may contact PIR if he or she thinks we made a mistake in taking action under our Anti-Abuse Policy. Through this informal process, which has no fee, we have reversed several suspensions when presented with new information or information that a domain name was compromised at the time it engaged in DNS Abuse. This free review is built in as a prerequisite to the Appeal process so registrants may have the suspension reversed prior to incurring any cost associated with the formal registrant Appeals process.

Beyond that informal step, PIR is instituting a new solution that creates new rights for .ORG registrants: The right to appeal a suspension under our Anti-Abuse Policy to a neutral third party. This appeal mechanism will be administered by Forum, previously the National Arbitration Forum. While Forum charges $1,200 per case, PIR will subsidize $700 and then reimburse the other $500 if the appeal is successful.

In formulating this neutral-party appeals process, PIR sought out a number of perspectives and voices, from our Advisory Council to Article19 and the Danish Institute for Human Rights to the members of several ICANN constituencies (including the ALAC, BC, GAC, NCUC and the Registrar Stakeholder Group) and the Internet and Jurisdiction (I&J) Policy Network. The creation of this Appeals process is consistent with both the guidance I&J has offered in the past, encouraging contracted parties to offer public appeal mechanisms, and the recommendations of Article19 and the Danish Institute for Human Rights which urged a redress mechanism for registrants.

We know that with every new mechanism like this, there will be a spectrum of views. We welcome it and are proud of what we are creating here. We listened to the feedback we received and made improvements to the process as a result, including making it more digestible by publishing the two Appeal process companion documents: the FAQs and visual timeline of the process.

Make no mistake, launching this mechanism does not mean that PIR is expanding its Anti-Abuse Policy and that we are going to start acting on more “content” referrals.  This simply creates a new right for registrants to have a neutral party hear their appeal for a suspension for abuse.

PIR is focused on anti-abuse because we know the impact of a healthy domain industry: the introduction of more and stronger mission-driven organizations and people devoting their efforts to make their communities, and therefore the world, a better place. PIR believes with our anti-abuse principles combined with a timely and transparent process for registrants to appeal suspensions, we have found the delicate balance that can give the community confidence in a safer, strong DNS.