Whois, like so much else of the Internet, was designed in an era of hippie trust amounting to naiveté. Of course it would have been better and, like, beautiful, man, if we could just trust users with ownership and contact information for domain names.
But instead, the administration of the Domain Name System has turned into a disaster for everyone except those who abuse it, and much of the trouble stems directly from the free availability of this information. I suspect that one of the earliest sources for spam address harvesting was Whois, and it also provides the foundation for most examples of domain name theft.
And then theres the general issue of privacy. Is it right that, in order to acquire and use a domain name, a user should have to disclose his or her address, phone number and e-mail address? In fact, Internet rules, promulgated by those great folks at ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), require that Whois data for a domain be accurate and up to date.
There are very good reasons for keeping that information accurate and up-to-date: This is the contact information that will be used if an attempt is made to transfer your domain to a different registrar, and it may be up to you to deny the request. Other attempts to contact you, for reasons legitimate or otherwise, may go to these contact points.
Faced with the abuse that comes from addresses being freely available, including spam and junk mail through the postal system, some people give false contact information. This is a bad idea. Even just putting a "nospam-remove" in your name could cause problems you might regret.
So, some time ago ICANN formed a Whois Privacy Task Force. Actually, there seems to have been more than one Whois Task Force, and the discussions go back to 2003. But there is a Preliminary Task Force Report on Whois Services, Nov. 22, 2006, and the public comment period ends on Monday, Jan. 15.
The first big "uh-oh" comes from the conclusion, up top, that the task force was, on the one hand, unable to agree on the purpose of Whois records or what data should be published, and on the other did agree that the current system is inscrutable and that any changes to it will be problematic. In other words, whatever we do will impinge on someones interests.