With the revision of the Ordinance on Internet Domains, the rules for using the WHOIS service have now changed fundamentally. Only people with an overriding legitimate interest will receive information about the holder’s personal data.
SWITCH is responsible for operating the .ch internet domain. The foundation manages and updates a database containing all information on the domain names, which it requires to exercise its function as the registry operator. The ‘WHOIS’ service used to be a public information source which made the personal data of the holders and technical contacts accessible to all interested parties. Since the revision of the Ordinance on Internet Domains (VID) came into effect on 1 January 2021, Switzerland has undergone a major system change. Only people who can credibly show that they have an overriding legitimate interest are given access to the personal data of the holder of a specific domain name.
Every year, more than two million individuals, companies, organisations and administrative units register and renew domain names under the top-level domain ‘.ch’ and store their contact details, such as their name and postal address. Some 40 million queries were and are made each month to the Registry Registration Data Directory Service (RDDS), formerly known as WHOIS. A large number of queries are intercepted by various security measures, and ultimately an average of 450,000 queries are answered each month.
The new access requirements generally require an individual examination of the overriding legitimate interests being asserted. SWITCH assesses the individual information requests accordingly. It has set up a special information service for this purpose, which can be accessed conveniently and easily online on the website www.nic.ch. Anyone seeking information can use the web form to submit the details and documents required to obtain information. At SWITCH, the requests are then processed by the registry team and more legally complex cases are discussed with the legal department. The VID does not impose restrictions on legitimate interests. In principle, a legitimate interest can therefore be any legal, economic or non-material interest that is justified on the basis of reasonable consideration. The range of interests of people who submit requests to SWITCH for review is just as varied. They include companies that have lost track of their domain portfolio, domain dealers who have used a platform to sell domain names to unknown customers who haven’t paid the purchase price, quarrelling shareholders who want to find out whether the board of directors transferred a few domain names to themselves shortly before declaring bankruptcy, and journalists on the trail of internet fraudsters.
Standard cases have now been established to make it easier to process requests. However, there are still regular questions of fundamental importance in which it is not easy to weigh up interests. With support from OFCOM and in exchange with interest groups such as the media or the authorities working in the field of cybercrime, a practice is created based on uniform formal criteria and content-related testing standards.
The average number of requests for information received each month is currently 80, and rising. If you compare this number with the 40 million domain name queries mentioned above, you begin to wonder about the intent and purpose of the numerous queries made previously.