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Nominet Takes Legal Action Over ‘Defamation’

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Nominet is seeking an injunction to remove content that it says amounts to ‘harassment’ of the company’s chief executive, amidst controversy over the propsoed direct.uk service

Nominet, the not-for-profit company that oversees the .uk web address registry, said on Friday it has begun High Court legal proceedings against one of its members for publication of defamatory content. Nominet said it is seeking an injunction to remove the content and to prevent its publication in future.

The action focuses on Graeme Wingate, a Nominet member who ran for a position as Non-Executive Director in 2009. Wingate has been vocal in challenging Nominet’s proposed direct.uk service, as well as in criticising the company’s chief executive, Lesley Cowley.

‘Harassment’

Nominet said Wingate published “untrue and defamatory” assertions on two of his websites that amounted to “harassment”.

“While we are entirely comfortable with legitimate protest about Nominet’s actions or proposals, there are assertions about Nominet and our CEO published on the avoid.co.uk and that.co.uk sites that are untrue and defamatory,” Nominet said in a statement. “The Board is united in its view that harassment and victimisation of our staff is unacceptable, and that Nominet should take appropriate action to support staff and protect our reputation.”

Nominet said Wingate had “rejected” attempts to discuss the matter, remove the content in question or enter into mediation, assertions denied by Wingate, who in a statement on avoid.co.uk said he discussed possible terms of a mediation procedure with Nominet in December.

Wingate’s website that.co.uk has published documents intended opposing Nominet’s controversial direct.uk proposal, which would introduce domains ending in .uk that would benefit from higher security standards than conventional domains such as those ending in .co.uk or .org.uk.

Wingate said he launched the avoid.co.uk website in November for a campaign against the management of Nominet, and in particular top discribe alleged misdeeds of Cowley. Both sites call for a Nominet emergency general meeting in response to the controversies around direct.uk and the management issues.

‘Legitimate concerns’

“I fully believe in the independence of the High Court and that they will agree with my right as member of Nominet and a business owner who uses .uk domains to raise legitimate concerns I have made about individuals,” Wingate said in a statement.

In 2009 Wingate ran for election to the post of Non-Executive Director at Nominet, but Nominet declined to publish his platform statement in a booklet accompanying the election due to possibly defamatory allegations against Cowley contained in it.

Nominet’s consultation process on direct.uk closed on 7 January, with the company saying it received more than 850 formal responses. The company is preparing a summary of these which will be considered by its board of directors at a meeting on 26 February, and published on Nominet’s website. Nominet said the board will decide on its next steps at the February meeting.

The direct.uk proposal has received criticism from organisations including the Open Rights Group (ORG) and the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety (CCCIS), which represents the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Action for Children and other groups.

Direct.uk controversy

“You are in effect conceding and openly acknowledging that the regime which applies to some or all of the other uk domains – for example .co.uk and .org.uk – is open to the very forms of abuse which the .uk counter measures are designed to prevent,” stated CCCIS chief executive John Carr, adding that Nominet appeared to be “setting itself up to run and profit from two entirely separate regimes, operating at two entirely different ethical levels”.

The ORG criticised “positioning of Nominet in an inappropriate role, by setting them up as arbiters of trust online and giving them additional and somewhat unchecked powers”.

While Nominet is overseen by the government, communications minister Ed Vaizey said in response to a parliamentary question following the consultation’s conclusion that the government has no plans to intervene in Nominet’s decision-making process on direct.uk.

Nominet’s “day-to-day operations are not subject to regulation by the Government”, Vaizey said.

Security

Nominet argues businesses and users would be able to enjoy better security with direct.uk, which would offer routine monitoring of the site and notifications of where malware is being served by .uk websites. Those sites serving malware would be suspended if registrants failed to take action to remove it.

Nominet said .uk websites would also use DNSSEC by default. DNSSEC, otherwise known as Domain Name System Security Extensions, adds digital signatures to DNS queries, which should improve security by ensuring requests are from genuine users, not attackers.

Nominet said the .uk domains would potentially be sold via registrars “that can meet the required data quality and service levels”.

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