Ensuring .nz can respond to emergencies and crises

Tuesday 16 April 2019

A blog post by Jordan Carter, InternetNZ Chief Executive

Since the Christchurch mosque terrorist attack of 15 March, organisations all over Aotearoa have been responding to the aftermath.

Others, like ours, have been carefully thinking about what we could or should be able to do in response to a terrorist attack should something like this ever happen again.

Following the Christchurch attack, the Domain Name Commission took and explained emergency steps to allow for the suspension of .nz domains that are used to share or disseminate terrorist objectionable material. 

You can read more about the Commission’s approach, and the letter it sent to InternetNZ setting out what it was doing, and why.

At InternetNZ, we want to make sure that the Commission can take action, as it has following Christchurch or in the case of a future unexpected event, within a clear and transparent policy environment. 

That’s why, as of today, InternetNZ has made an interim policy change to clarify and make explicit the capacity for the Domain Name Commission to take extraordinary compliance steps during extraordinary circumstances.

This has been done using the power under the .nz Policy Development Process to make an interim policy, one that will have effect for up to six months. 

This transparency and clarity is achieved by adding a series of clauses to the .nz Operations and Procedures Policy that enable the Domain Name Commissioner to take “action to mitigate or minimise” harm that use of the .nz domain space is created in emergency or exceptional circumstances. The Domain Name Commissioner will be limited to suspending, temporarily transferring or locking a domain name — temporary changes that can easily be reversed if required. 

Under this interim policy change, the Commission’s actions will need to be proportionate to the harm in question, are temporary, must be made public as soon as possible and publicly reported. You can read the full details of these changes here. The Council paper setting out the decision is also posted here.

We know, and acknowledge, that DNS-level interventions do not actually remove content, they only make it harder for people to find it. Nor do DNS level changes have an immediate effect — they distribute slowly through the Domain Name System.

However, as the Domain Name Commission is currently doing, disrupting access to footage of mass murder is something we can, and should do.

These interim policy changes have been made now, to enable the Commission to act responsibly and swiftly should any further emergencies or horrific events occur.

None of this signals an intent by InternetNZ to get into decisions about content in a general sense. Following last year’s Domain Name Abuse Forum, the .nz policy review will be considering those issues. We simply want to make sure, in the short term, that in emergency situations, there is complete clarity about what powers are available and how they can be used. 

This interim policy gives us six months to allow for a broader discussion and consideration of how to handle unexpected events. What .nz policy should say in the long term is something we are asking the .nz policy review panel to address, in the comprehensive review of .nz policy that is currently kicking off.

I can’t make the video disappear. And I can’t stop horrible things happening in the future. But InternetNZ and the Domain Name Commission can work together ensure that .nz plays its part in disrupting the sharing or facilitation of terrorism.