US Confronts Terrorism on the Net

Could Domain Registration Background Checks Ensue?


U.S. House of Representatives member Howard Berman, a California Democrat, confronted ICANN at their quarterly meeting in Marina del Ray, California with his concerns about terrorists using seemingly innocuous Web sites to communicate secret information.


Berman claims that domain registrars do not verify the registrants’ information, leaving gapping holes and sizeable opportunities for terrorists to acquire domain names using false information.


While he acknowledged that companies in charge of selling some of the new domain TLDs such as .info already pursue background checks of registered users, Berman would like to see all ICANN-issued TLDs do the same.


”I’d like to see all the TLDs start to implement these types of checks on their system. In the absence of self-regulation in the industry, I believe that Congress may have to step in.”


An example of the negligible surveillance Berman spoke of was reported last week in the online edition of Wired Magazine in an article entitled “Osama Family’s Suspicious Site”. The article reported that the WHOIS information for the Web site, once the official site of the Saudi Bin Laden Group construction conglomerate, was registered on September 11, 2000 and had a set expiration date of September 11, 2001 – a date too eerily coincidental for some.


Several attempts have been made by phone and e-mail to contact the listed registrar of the domain in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to no avail.


Law enforcement agencies are investigating this and other incidents of Web sites being used to foster terrorist communications, possibly through audio and video files or email, before the attacks on the United States in September.


In opposition to the Congressman’s claim of irresponsible registration procedures, ICANN refuted the accusation, saying the problem wasn’t nearly as widespread as asserted, and that if the US government passes legislation that requires more stringent monitoring of registrants, it will only make the registration process more expensive and taxing for everyone involved.


Meanwhile, Berman will continue to lobby his cause to the House of Representatives.




Weismann, Robyn. ”Congressman Threatens Domain Name Legislation,” NewsFactor Network; 13 November 2001.

Altman, Howard. “Osama Family’s Suspicious Site,” Wired Magazine Online; 9 November 2001.