Clark urges domain registration privacy to protect targets of threats and abuse

Washington, D.C. -- Congresswoman Katherine Clark is urging the global domain name database maintenance organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), to protect the privacy of potential targets of online abuse. In a letter to ICANN, Clark points out that private information made publicly available through online registry databases has led to extreme cases of abuse, harassment and stalking. ICANN’s publicly available Whois registry database is sometimes used by abusers to orchestrate an online intimidation tactic known as “doxing,” or the exploitative release of private information such as personal addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers. The increasing prevalence of doxing has been highlighted by recent cases involving women journalists, feminists and technology professionals. The incidents range from online abusers’ attempts to send SWAT teams to break into women’s private residences, to women fleeing their homes after receiving specific violent threats including their address or photos of their homes.

“The sad reality is, when women choose to express a strong point of view online, they become routine targets of severe online threats, and those threats often have real world consequences,” said Clark. “Protecting their privacy online is one way we can protect their freedom of expression. The internet plays an undeniable role in our advancement as a country and as individuals, and we all have role in ensuring that every voice can participate equally.”

Studies have shown that women are the targets of the most severe types or internet abuse, and it happens at a rate 27 times greater than men. In Clark’s letter, she emphasizes the crucial role privacy protections have in combating severe online threats:

“Women targeted by online abuse are repeatedly subjected to explicit threats of rape and murder, their personal information is often disclosed, and many have been forced to flee their homes and cancel public events because of threats received online. These violent online threats are not only emotionally devastating; they curtail the professional choices of women and limit their full participation in the economy.’”

Clark’s letter was sent in response to proposed changes to privacy policies currently under consideration by ICANN. Under the proposed revisions, organizations and individuals like domestic violence shelters, human rights activists and others may be forced to disclose the registrants’ personal information if their website accepts donations or uses advertisements to promote their cause.                                                                                                                                      
Clark’s plea to ICANN is a continuation of her efforts to end online violence that disproportionately target women.

The U.S. House recently backed Congresswoman Clark’s request to intensify investigation and prosecution of severe online threats against women. The Department of Justice is specifically instructed to “intensify its efforts to combat this destructive abuse,” and to “increase investigations and prosecutions of these crimes.”

In June, Clark introduced the Prioritizing Online Threats Enforcement Act, legislation that compels the Department of Justice (DOJ) to enforce laws prohibiting online violence against women and to ensure protections for victims of severe online threats.