Nominet's Lesley Cowley on the creeping powers of the DE Bill

By Katy Bairstow

There has been considerable talk within the tech community about the Digital Economy Act which was passed into law last Thursday, most of which surrounds the sections concerning copyright infringement.

One of the areas of the Bill, now the Digital Economy Act, which has not received the attention it deserves are the portions of clauses 19 and 21, which gives the government powers to intervene in .uk domain registration. This area has been the sole responsibility of Nominet, the not-for-profit company which was established in 1996.

In October 2008 the Department of Business contacted Nominet with “concerns about how Nominet’s constitution and structure addressed its responsibility to stakeholders other than its Membership” and Nominet subsequently underwent an independent governance review in order to address those concerns.

The proposed governance changes received statements of support from organisations including ICANN, ISOC and Google, praising their public purpose commitment.

Lesley Cowley, Nominet’s CEO and one of the most successful women in UK tech, told me that “the Government made it clear that, if Nominet and its members were to change its constitution as recommended by the review then there would be no need for Government intervention, yet it would put the clauses in the draft Bill as a safeguard.”

Despite the organisation’s members voting in February to change their constitution, implementing the measures that the Government had requested, those clauses remained in place.

When asked what level of Government intervention is allowed by the Act, Lesley pointed out that “The powers laid out in the Bill are reserve powers. Before the powers can be used, secondary legislation will need to be passed – so currently it’s not clear.” However, she continued that “we believe that we have demonstrated that our membership takes its responsibilities with regard to self-regulation seriously and that these powers will not be necessary.”

With a likelihood of a follow-up Bill in the next parliament the question of how far Government should be able to involve itself in .uk domain registration remains unanswered and deserves to face far more scrutiny than the existing legislation was subjected to.

Katy has worked in the IT industry for over a decade for companies like EDS. She currently works as a freelance web designer and developer and blogs infrequently at can follow her on Twitter @katybairstow.