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Dec 21, 2009

The swift takedown of stephenconroy.com.au

Just hours after a bit of media publicity, an anti-Stephen Conroy website was pulled down by authorities. Was this a routine domain deregistration or something more sinister?

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The Fake Stephen Conroy website at stephenconroy.com.au that Crikey mentioned on Friday lasted just two days. At 5pm AEDT Friday it was taken offline by .au Domain Administration Ltd (auDA), the industry self-regulatory body for Australian internet domains, who deleted the domain with less than three hours notice.

The site’s content, including the header “Stephen Conroy: Minister for Fascism”, is now online at stephen-conroy.com instead, where auDA has no jurisdiction — although it’s hosted in the same location.

This take down was unusually fast. “Generally, such a deregistration/removal process takes a few weeks,” reports iTWire.

“We didn’t even get a written copy of the take-down notice, it all happened so fast,” says Tim March, owner of the IT consultancy Sapia Pty Ltd, which  registered the domain and one of the site’s driving forces.

March told Crikey that the registrar, Domain Central, phoned him about the take-down notice after experiencing email problems. March then phoned and emailed auDA, requesting an extension of their 5pm deadline.

auDA had demanded evidence that Sapia was eligible to use stephenconroy.com.au under Schedule B of its Domain Name Eligibility and Allocation Policy Rules for Open 2LDs (2008-05). A .com.au domain must be “an exact match, abbreviation or acronym of the registrant’s name or trademark” or “otherwise closely and substantially connected to the registrant”.

However, people routinely register domains that are simply the name of a project they’re running or a product they’re selling — the connection being that the name describes the business activity.

To pick a random example, string.com.au has been registered by Internet Products Sales Services Pty Ltd to link to sites selling guitar strings and string bikinis.

It could perhaps be argued that stephenconroy.com.au is a perfectly sensible name for a site about Stephen Conroy.

The timing seems at odds with auDA’s .au Dispute Resolution Policy (auDRP) (2008-01), which requires written complaints and gives respondents 20 days to file their response.

But March says he called auDA about 30 minutes after receiving the notification.

“I must have spoken to auDA at around 1510 AEDT, which puts a rough estimate of the issue time around 1440 AEDT, which is obviously only 2h20m from issue to take down.”

Did Senator Conroy, or someone in his office, pressure auDA for a quick result?

“The Minister’s office made no request and took no other action in relation to the domain stephenconroy.com.au,” a spokesperson told Crikey — as is right and proper given auDA’s independence.

“Satire is an important part of any healthy democracy,” Conroy’s spokesperson said in response to the Fake Stephen Conroy Twitter account run by then-Telstra employee Leslie Nassar.

However, in October 2008, Conroy’s policy adviser Belinda Dennett did try to silence one of Conroy’s critics, network engineer Mark Newton, by asking the chair of the Internet Industry Association to pressure Newton through his employer.

March says Domain Central told him the normal process would be for auDA to contact them requesting the policy-based deletion.

“In this instance they apparently bypassed them and went straight to AusRegistry [who run the central domain name database] to pull the domain,” March said.

“They really wanted us gone.”

Crikey sought comment from auDA and Domain Central, but neither replied before our deadline.

Watchdog group Electronic Frontiers Australia says auDA have the right to enforce its rules, “though a three-hour turnaround on this dispute seems quite unusual”.

“This is perhaps another case study of why private regulation of the domain name system is flawed, in that it is wide open to private censorship,” EFA vice-chair Colin Jacobs told Crikey.

In this respect, the case resembles the 2006 take-down of Richard Neville’s spoof site johnhowardpm.org, although that site was taken down not by auDA but by registrar Melbourne IT, who later admitted it was “badly handled”.

Stilgherrian —

Stilgherrian

Technology writer and broadcaster

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5 thoughts on “The swift takedown of stephenconroy.com.au

  1. Stilgherrian

    In a story over at ZDNet.com.au, auDA confirms that they received no communication from Senator Conroy, but that this was a routine thing.

    [auDA CEO Chris] Disspain said that there was no element of censorship in its decision to investigate the site, but rather just a concern about whether the company really had cause to use the stephenconroy name. “We don’t care what the website says or does. It’s not our issue. The question is, are you eligible for the domain?” he said.

    The domain name has not been taken out of Sapia’s hands as yet, only made inactive, Disspain said. Sapia had fourteen days from last Friday to show that it is eligible to hold the name. If the company is able to prove a connection to the name, for example via showing it offers a product or service carrying the name, it will be allowed to keep using the domain.

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