There is a serious threat to domain name privacy, and you can help. As you may have heard, an ICANN working group is considering how privacy and proxy services should work for domain names. It will cover all generic domain names, so not necessarily country domains such as .au, but including .com and the other most common domains.
When you register a domain name, normally your contact details go into a simple database system called WHOIS - details including your address, real name, email and phone numbers - and this information is publicly available. Originally intended to allow contacting domain owners for technical or administrative reasons, WHOIS is a relic from the early days of the Internet when it was a much smaller, mostly research, network with a fairly collegial and trusting style of organisation. A lot has changed. Law enforcement are increasing pushing for the information to be real, verified, contact information, and there are many reasons not to want that information freely available to anyone who wants it, ranging from spam to harassment (legal or illegal). Many people use a proxy or privacy registration service, that protects privacy by providing a way to contact the domain owner without giving away their private information.
The working group has been working for many months to determine what rules these services should have to abide by, and it has been contentious, and hard work. The group includes privacy advocates (including myself, EFA Chair David Cake) but also very strong representation from the intellectual property industry (such as representatives of the RIAA and MPAA). They are pushing to limit the privacy protection these services provide only to be fully available to non-commercial sites - and what exactly is commercial is murky (donation processing for non-profits?). They are pushing to make it easier to force a reveal of the contact details in response to copyright and other intellectual property claims. We know that weakening the protection these privacy services provide WILL be used for harassment - the modern Internet environment includes many serial harassers who are very skilled at exploiting weaknesses in the systems that protect our privacy, and the consequences can be very serious, including such tactics as death threats or 'swatting' (calling in fake emergency calls to the address to try to attract a life-threatening armed police response). We need to hear the voices of those that want to keep Internet privacy strong. We know these harassment tactics are being used against those who speak out on causes such as feminism and gay rights, against political dissidents, and will be used to discourage free speech.
The report is publicly available (though long, bureaucratic and dense) and open for public comment for the next few days, and public comment makes a real difference. All you need to do is send an email to [email protected]. A comment can be as short as you like, a few sentences stating your opinion is fine. Or sign the petition at SaveDomainPrivacy.org