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Plan to screen UK domain names for sex crimes to catch clueless paedophiles

All new web addresses registered with a .uk domain will be screened for keywords that promote or encourage sexual offenses. 

Oxford-based company Nominet, which handles all .uk registries, will investigate any requests for domain names and forward anything suspicious to the authorities. 

Nominet says that it will scan every domain request within 48 hours of registration and suspend and report any site containing prohibited terms. It will also retroactively scan existing web .uk addresses. 

Plan to screen UK domain names for sex crimes to catch clueless paedophiles
Surface Details: Nominet will flag any obviously dodgy domain names but won’t check content

Nominet’s decisions followed the publication of a report by Lord Ken Macdonald QC which recommended that the company stop the spread of sites promoting or facilitating sexual abuse at the earliest opportunity. 

While the company will scour .uk domains for blacklisted terms, Nominet will have no role in investigating or policing a site’s content. 

Lord Macdonald said: “The fact that no content is available to contextualise the domain name in any way is likely to result in only those names most patently and crudely inconsistent with Nominet’s [amended] terms and conditions being actioned.”

In other words, policing domain names will likely only catch the most clueless sex criminals who nail their intentions to the mast with an obvious domain name. 

While not checking content which would help contextualise an individual or company’s request for a domain name, Nominet argues that it does not want to be involved in the policing of content. 

Nominet’s CEO Lesley Cowley predicts that the new measures will only see a small number of domain names being referred to the police. 

Cowley said: “Nominet has always had an important role as a trusted guardian of the UK internet. This update to our registration policy is something we feel is appropriate and practical.  

“Even though we are only talking about a handful of domain names, we agreed that we do not want those domain names on the register – regardless of whether there was an associated website or content.  So we are taking steps to remove domain names for which we can see no reasonable use.” 

While Nominet has not revealed its blacklist of terms, Lord Macdonald gives examples of ‘bad’ registrations identified by Nominet, which include bestiality.co.uk, rapemyteacher.co.uk and paedophile.co.uk. 

Nominet has revealed to the BBC that all domains that are automatically flagged will be checked over by a human operative to avoid ‘good’ names which may contain keywords – such as ‘therapist’ or ‘rapeseed’ – leading to false positives. 

False positives have led to sex education sites aimed at teenagers and rape crisis services blocked by the content filters of well-meaning ISPs. 

While UK-based domains might gain a new veneer of respectability, this will not stop mainstream sites being hijacked by distributors of child sexual abuse, nor will it affect deep web distribution of illegal sexual abuse material. 

Image: Mike Traboe/Flickr
 

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