International Governance

Seizing Iran's Domain Name -- .IR

By Paul Rosenzweig
Friday, June 27, 2014, 3:08 PM

As we have noted in the past, there is a brewing fight over who controls the naming function for the internet.  I suspect that some who've read these posts have wondered if they were truly germane to national security -- the nominal subject matter of this blog.  Today, we find a bit more evidence of the general relevance of the ongoing discussion.

A lawyer representing a “group of American victims of terror and family members of those who have been injured or killed in attacks sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran) have moved to attach and seize the ccTLD domain registry of Iran, .Ir  Yes, you read that right -- a group of terrorist victims who have gotten a default judgment against the Iran are seeking an order from a US court, directed to ICANN, in which they take control of Iran's country code domain name.    ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is, in the end, a non-profit corporation organized under the laws of California, and the plaintiff's assert that they may satisfy their judgment by seizing Iranian assets, of which the .Ir domain is an eligible one.  According to one report, a provisional seizure order has been issued and ICANN has 10 days to respond.  The original filing in District Court for the District of Columbia is here.

I know virtually nothing about the underlying law of default judgments; terrorist actions; or attachment of assets.  And I certainly have some sympathy for the terrorist victims.  But my own instinct is that this would be a very, very unfortunate result if it were to come to pass.  If US courts were seen as a forum for divesting a sovereign nation of its top-level country code domain that would simply reinforce the growing view worldwide that the US is not a neutral custodian of the network.