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Whois data a key weapon in fraud fight, FTC says

The agency tells ICANN that the domain databases are critical to its fight against spyware and other Internet fraud.

The Federal Trade Commission has made a pitch for open access to Whois, saying the databases are a key weapon in its fight against spyware and other Internet fraud.

The agency on Tuesday called access to the Whois databases, which contain contact information for Web site operators, "critical to the agency's consumer protection laws." It was responding to a recommendation from a committee to restrict use of the data to strictly "technical purposes."

The official statement comes after an address by FTC Commissioner John Leibowitz to a meeting of ICANN this week in Morocco, where he gave examples of how Whois data has aided the agency's attorneys and investigators in identifying perpetrators of Internet scams, spam and other illegal online activity.

"Whois databases often are one of the first tools FTC investigators use to identify wrongdoers," he said.

In one instance, the agency was able to stop seven companies sending sexually graphic e-mails without the legally required warning labels. Leibowitz said he was "uncertain" the agency would have been able to do so without unhindered access to Whois data.

"If ICANN restricts the use of Whois data to technical purposes only, it will greatly impair the FTC's ability to identify Internet malefactors quickly--and ultimately stop perpetrators of fraud, spam and spyware from infecting consumers' computers," Leibowitz said.

He did note the importance of an accurate Whois database, saying, "the Commission has advocated that stakeholders work to improve the accuracy of such information, because inaccurate data has posed significant obstacles in FTC investigations."

However, he added that even imperfect information has proved helpful. He cited cases in which the agency tracked down suspects using a range of phony registration names by matching contact information.