The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is seeking to block an attempt by plaintiffs involved in a US lawsuit to seize the top-level domains (TLDs) of Iran, Syria and North Korea as part of compensation for terrorist incidents.
ICANN said that it has asserted to the US federal court in Washington DC that a country code TLD (ccTLD) should not be regarded as property, and therefore should not be included in claims by plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are trying to obtain assets from countries that they argue have supported terrorism.
The case involves several victims of terrorist incidents who have already won civil lawsuits against Iran, Syria and North Korea and are seeking redress on the strength of those judgements. As part of this process, the plaintiffs have served ICANN with "writs of attachment", the organisation said, and subpoenas seeking information to help them seize the ccTLDs of the nations in question.
ICANN's response to the US federal court is that ccTLDs are an essential part of the smooth functioning of the internet, and should not be regarded as property that may open to seizure in this manner.
John Jeffrey, ICANN's general counsel, said in a statement that ICANN's role in the domain name system has nothing to do with any property relating to the countries involved in the lawsuit.
"We explained in our Motion to Quash, that ccTLDs are part of a single, global interoperable Internet which ICANN serves to help maintain. ccTLD's are not property, and are not ‘owned' or ‘possessed' by anyone including ICANN, and therefore cannot be seized in a lawsuit," he said.
The move could lead to renewed calls for greater international oversight of the Internet, a dispute which has been rumbling for some time and flared up again earlier this year in the wake of the revelations regarding the PRISM spying scandal.
Critics have expressed concern in the past that too much control of the internet is in the hands of US agencies, and if US courts are able to seize TLDs associated with other nations as part of legal rulings, it may have far-reaching consequences for the operation of the internet.
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