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Digital rights campaigners warn of Nominet gaining 'monopoly over trust and security' with new .uk domain offering

Nominet would have a monopoly over 'trust' and security in the UK domain space under plans to create a '.uk' domain the Open Rights Group (ORG) has warned.10 Jan 2013

Nominet is the internet registry for .uk domain names. Last year it launched a consultation on plans to allow businesses to register shorter domain names rooted at '.uk' instead of at '.co.uk'. The consultation closed earlier this week.

Under its plans only UK-based companies would be able to register web addresses rooted at .uk, whilst it also unveiled plans to conduct scans of websites for signs of malicious software or viruses. In addition it has promised to adopt 'DNSSEC' security protocols which provide a digital signature to websites that provides authenticity to the particular domain name that users are seeking to access.

Nominet has said that the measures would be "brought together in a trustmark" and would "really provide assurance to users of these domain names that it is a safe and secure space".

However, digital rights campaigner group the ORG has said that there are a number of problems with what Nominet has proposed.

"These proposals involve exploiting Nominet's position to create from nothing new online 'real estate'," the ORG said in its response to the Nominet proposals. "The proposed powers and security offerings would enable Nominet to create a trusted gated community with that real estate (or at least the perception of such), thus inflating its value in relation to other domains. This would be something of a commercial coup for Nominet and registrars. They would be the primary winners from the proposals."

"We support Nominet being a registry, rather than a police force," it added. "That is to say, a role for Nominet in which they support the 'general' implementation of DNSSEC, but not an extension of their role via these .uk proposals into being an arbiter of 'trust'."

The ORG said Nominet should provide "evidence" that supports a need to address consumer trust issues with online services. It said it was concerned that Nominet's proposal would lead to the creation of a "walled garden". This would in turn "inevitably seriously undermine other domain space such as.co.uk, and could undermine the market for online security services," the group claimed.

"This 'walled garden' would be problematic precisely because of the role Nominet enjoys and the additional powers and services it is proposing," the ORG said. "Given the status of trusted authority and security provider to which Nominet aspires, some consumers may reasonably conclude that only services with a .uk domain are trustworthy. That would damage the perception of those websites who choose not to take up the service."

"We are concerned this would effectively see website operators held to ransom and pressured into operate through a .uk domain. It could also effectively create a sort of monopoly over trust and security online," the ORG added.