Domainz lawsuit: embarrassing emails emerge

The row over the defamation suit brought by Domainz CEO Patrick O'Brien against Isocnz member Alan Brown has taken a new twist.

The row over the defamation suit brought by Domainz CEO Patrick O'Brien against Isocnz member Alan Brown has taken a new twist with the publication of potentially embarrassing emails written by O'Brien and former Isocnz chairman Jim Higgins.

Both emails have been leaked onto the Isocnz mailing list and newsgroup.

The O'Brien email - sent to an employee of Wellington City Council - appears to cast doubt on advice regarding the lawsuit given to the Isocnz council by Higgins, in his current role as chairman of the board of Domainz.

Higgins is understood to have assured Isocnz councillors that O'Brien had not threatened or even alluded to defamation action against the WCC following a post to the Isocnz list/newsgroup by WCC employee and Isocnz member David Zanetti.

The Isocnz council subsequently decided - over the objections of several members - to declare its "full confidence" in the Domainz board with respect to its funding of O'Brien's defamation suit against Brown.

Brown says his post to the Isocnz members' list - in which O'Brien claims to have been defamed - was related to the Zanetti incident. Zanetti has refused to comment on the matter.

In the leaked email, addressed to wcc.govt.nz nameholder Jos Van Herk, O'Brien claims to have been "particularly offended by the tone, the insinuations and personal slurs upon myself" contained in Zanetti's posting.

O'Brien writes that he is "led to believe the content of this public posting made from a wcc.govt.nz email address borders on the defamatory." He concludes his email by noting that he is to "consider my options as to an appropriate response" and asks Van Herk to call him. His message was rapidly followed by a public apology from Van Herk on behalf of the council.

WCC staffer concerned at Domainz procedures

Headers on Zanetti's email show it was not made from a council address, but from a private email address, after working hours. It was prefaced with a note that it represented the views of Zanetti only, and not the WCC or any associated organisation.

In his letter Zanetti expressed concern at an incident in which changes had been made to the wcc.govt.nz domain record, for which he is responsible, without his knowledge and without the use of the appropriate Domainz authentication key - without which no change to domain records is supposed to be possible.

Zanetti said he learned that the changes had been made on the basis of an email request received from the nameholder. Although he is the technical contact for the WCC's domain, he was unable to obtain a copy of the email, which he was told had been deleted.

He was concerned that the change appeared to have been made on the basis of "a simple email exchange with no authorisation keys or any other methods of checking the identity." He considered this a risky practice when email was "so easily forged".

Zanetti wrote that he had discussed the issue with "my good friend Patrick O'Brien" and that O'Brien had "actually helped a lot to fill in the missing bits of the picture."

He said O'Brien had told him that "common sense" was all that was need to govern such changes. He concluded his message by asking subscribers on the list: "Is the level of proof required for the change I've described high enough?"

In his letter to van Herk, O'Brien defends the unverified email process on the basis that "we had reached the correct contact person, that you were authorised to give instructions, and that the instructions you gave were properly translated into one minor change to your domain contact details."

Ignore the members, urges Higgins email

Another message to have founds its way to the list/newsgroup is not directly related to O'Brien's defamation case, but its abusive tone is bound to embarrass Isocnz as it backs action against against Brown over arguably less strong language.

In a posting made last year to the Isocnz council list, then-Isocnz chairman Jim Higgins criticises apparent reluctance by the Isocnz council to approve the nomination of O'Brien to the Names Council of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Higgins describes councillors as "scared shitless of our own shadows, too afraid to blow our own noses without permission of the members" and critics of the nomination among the Isocnz membership as "a tiny handfull (sic) of sad, bitter individuals who occasionally emerge from under their stones to spit venom at anything that goes past …

"The plain facts of the matter are … It doesn't matter a damn what the members think or say," Higgins continues.

Former councillor worried by events

Since its publication on the Isocnz list/newsgroup, former councillor Jenny Shearer, a director of Auckland firm, Digital Data Security, has confirmed she was aware of the email from Higgins, sent around the middle of last year.

Shearer says that as one of those who protested against O'Brien's nomination for a post that "many considered to be the domain of an elected official" she interprets Higgins' attack to be against her.

"Though I wasn't named personally I was highly active at that time in protesting against undemocratic actions by the council. While I found Jim's rant amusing at the time, in the light of subsequent events I do not."

Shearer says she is concerned that O'Brien's lawsuit and comments in his email to the WCC will hamper debate on the various Isocnz discussion lists.

"These lists are a great opportunity for a new approach to democracy in the future, and if ordinary people, that is, people without law degrees, start to become anxious that they going to cop a defamation lawsuit when they say something critical,

then they'll stop contributing.

"I say shame that it is a national Internet society that has supported this action. Isocnz is losing its vision. I've been on the Council list on a number of occasions in the past warning people to stop muttering about defamation. Often this has been over something which clearly wasn't defamatory anyway, and the intent appeared to be to threaten. Either that, or many people have no idea where the lines are drawn."

Isocnz chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, who has spoken for the council on the defamation issue, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He is at a meeting in Cairo, along with Higgins and Isocnz executive director Sue Leader.

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