Anonymity when registering a domain name: a good idea?

18.09.2017

Recently registrars have emerged where you can register a domain name anonymously. The WHOIS data would not mention your contact details as owner of the domain name, but those of the registrar in question… Is this legal? Where is the catch?

WHOIS data

When you register a domain name, you must normally provide your contact details, which are then entered in the WHOIS records. Depending on the registry, this information will be extensive or very brief.

The WHOIS records usually contain the following data:

  • The name of the REGSITRANT: the (legal) person who has the right to use the domain name;
  • The name of the technical contact person of the registrant (ONSITE): for example, the website developer, the hosting company, etc.;
  • The name of the company where the domain was registered (REGISTRAR).

These data ensure full transparency so that the authorities know who is liable for the contents on the website to which the domain name refers.

What if you want to remain anonymous?

In certain circumstances, the person who registers a domain name may not want to have his name mentioned as a registrant, so that people will not know whether that person (or company) is behind a certain website.

Such anonymity is offered by Njal.la for instance. This web service is a project of 1337 LLC, a company established on the Caribbean island of Nevis, set up by Internet activists, including various people who have also worked on The Pirate Bay. 

How does it work?

The method is very simple: the company registers the domain name in your place and stead. It becomes the owner of the domain name, and its contact details appear in the WHOIS records. Anonymity is ensured, it seems: only the company knows who the owner of the domain name is. However, this does not provide absolute anonymity, because in its conditions of use, Njal.la clearly mentions that it will disclose your data to the governmental authorities if it receives a court order to that end.

Where’s the catch?

The prices for an ‘anonymous’ registration are somewhat higher than what other registrars charge for a ‘normal’ registration. You thus pay njal.la € 15 a year for a .be domain name. But we must point out that there is a catch, if you register a domain name with such an intermediary. The website promises that the domain name can be transferred to your name at no extra charge if you so wish. Until any proof to the contrary, this is a promise that should give you some guarantee. For registrants of .be domain names, it is totally unnecessary to use such services, because from the privacy perspective, DNS Belgium gives only the e-mail address in the public WHOIS database.

You must nonetheless bear in mind that you are in a vulnerable position. After all, this person becomes the owner of your website and leases it to you, which could lead to problems in the event of a dispute. You would not build a house on rented land, would you?

There are also registrars who would conceal the data of a registrant from the WHOIS records for an extra fee. But this sounds a little like blackmail, because as soon as you no longer pay that extra fee, the data are disclosed again. And if the authorities have an injunction, then the registrar must ultimately release your data nonetheless.

Our advice: unless you really have devious plans, there is no reason to take up the offer of anonymity in the WHOIS records. Such anonymity is not guaranteed, in any event: if ordered by the government, your data will still be disclosed to the competent authorities. 

 

 

 

 

WHOIS

Look-up which gives information about the registrant of the domain name, his registrar, the name server and also some information about the domain status. 

registrar

Is the entity that registers a domain name for a company, organization or person. Next to the “resale” of web addresses registrars can also offer hosting services, web design... 

registry

Organisation that handles the registration of domain names. A registry maintains the data base containing information about one (or more) domain name extension(s) as .be, .com, .org, .vlaanderen, etc.

registrant

Domain owner, person who holds a domain name.

Hosting

rent of a physical space to store a web server which is permanently connected to the internet. This service will typically be offered by your Internet Service Provider.

DNS

Domain Name System or Domain Name Server. The global DNS is the system and protocol used on the internet to translate domain names into IP addresses and vice versa. 
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