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NZ domain 'scraping' win in US court upholds global privacy precedent

NZ domain 'scraping' win in US court upholds global privacy precedent

Domain Name Commission wins again over DomainTools

Brent Carey (Domain Name Commission)

Brent Carey (Domain Name Commission)

New Zealand’s Domain Name Commission (DNC) has had its injunction blocking a US company from "scraping" details of domain owners upheld by a higher court.

The US Court of Appeals' decision prevents DomainTools from breaching .nz domain names owners' privacy and publishing their personal details, the DNC said today.

The win is important not just to .nz domain name holders and their privacy but also for managers of other countries domain name systems who might consider starting legal action against DomainTools and similar companies where terms of use are breached.

”We are doing our bit to balance privacy and security online by taking legal action, but the domain name industry needs to pay attention to privacy and change with the times,” New Zealand domain name commissioner Brent Carey said.

After the first ruling in September 2018, DomainTools appealed and lost again in the on 17 July, the DNC announced today.

In 2018, the DNC mandated that a privacy option be offered for all .nz domain name holders that are not in trade, allowing people to withhold their address and phone number from appearing in an online registration search. 

More than 63,000 domain names have already taken up the privacy option, the DNC said, and the number is growing.

DomainTools is a digital intelligence-gathering company that has been scraping registration data from New Zealand’s Domain Name Commission for many years. 

The DNC said the company made historic records available showing information that should now be withheld.

The mass collection of data breached the commission’s terms of use and exposed the details of domain holders who chose to have their details kept private, the DNC said.

DomainTools argued in the original lawsuit that a win for the DNC could set off an avalanche of litigation as other registries attempt to protect the privacy of their registrants, and the US district judge Robert S Lasnik said they may be correct.

The judgement, however, said the law clearly favoured the plaintiff on the merits of its contract claim: "[The] defendant’s access to the information in the .nz register was subject to certain limitations, including a prohibition on using 'multiple; or 'high volume' queries to download (i.e., copy from one computer system to another) part or all of the register.

"[The] plaintiff will likely be able to show that defendant violated the terms of use when it downloaded [the] plaintiff’s data to create a private version of the register.

"Once [the] defendant became aware of the amended terms of use, its downloads and use of the stored data in its products and services constituted additional violations."

The decision strengthened the DNC's commitment to protect the privacy rights of .nz registrants, said Carey. 

"It sends a message to all companies dealing with registrants’ personal information online to be compliant with privacy requirements."

The DNC has taken a similar case against WhoIs API and Carey said that continues. 

"It has stayed pending the outcome of the substantive DomainTools matter. The Commission hopes that the outcome from Domain Tools will encourage WhoIs API in regards to settlement."


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