After years of wrangling, UK national Internet registry Nominet looks set to agree to a new fast-track process that will make it easier for the police to quickly shutter domains being used by criminals for fraud.
Currently, police are required to have a court order before Nominet feels liable to act on ‘.co.uk’ domains being used for criminal purposes, something that can slow down the process of closing problem domains to a crawl.
This has led to accusations of bureaucratic complacency over the issue of problem domains - including those used to sell counterfeit goods, non-existent event tickets, and pharmacy products such as Viagra - which are typically only active for a period of weeks or even days.
Nominet’s new draft guidelines set out a streamlined ‘expedited’ procedure as long as the police provide “a declaration that the suspension is proportionate, necessary, and urgent.”
The criteria for fast-tracking a closure will depend on whether the closure is deemed a last resort, Nominet said, but in practical terms that is unlikely to be a barrier to rapid take downs if the police are willing to document evidence that harm is already being done to consumers.
“The strong consensus of the issue group is that Nominet should not itself be expected to determine criminality in any case,” read the draft release, which will be finalised during a 21 September meeting of Nominet stakeholders.
“However the policy should enable Nominet to act swiftly where it has received a properly authorised request from a UK public law enforcement agency to suspend a domain,” it said.
Nominet underlined that it would act only on the basis of requests from “law enforcement agencies with which Nominet has a trusted relationship,” which would include the Metropolitan Police Central E-Crime Unit (PCeU), which has current responsibility for policing Internet fraud.
After a slow start, UK authorities started to take the issue of .co.uk domain fraud seriously three years ago. In 2009, the PCeU and Nominet announced that it had shuttered 1,219 UK-registered domains, mostly set up by Chinese hackers to sell counterfeit goods.
The problem was that this only happened after criminals had apparently conned UK consumers out of millions of pounds for these goods, exploiting the ease with which domains can be registered and big delays in shutting them down.
Under the new procedures, problem domains could be shut down in days or even hours rather than months under the old regime.
If the Nominet board approves the new process, it could become the new operating procedure as soon as October.