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Oh, the irony! Banned anti-Islam activist shows up on “Turkish” new gTLD domain

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2019, Domain Policy

Tommy Robinson, who has been banned from most major social media platforms due to his anti-Islam “hate speech”, is now conducting business via a domain name that some believe rightfully belongs to the Muslim-majority nation of Turkey.

The registration could add fuel to the fight between ICANN and its governmental advisers over whether certain domains should be blocked or restricted.

Robinson, the nom de guerre of the man born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the founder and former leader of the far-right English Defence League and known primarily for stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK for the last decade.

He’s currently, controversially, an adviser to the UK Independence Party. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, also a thoroughly unpleasant bloke, considers Robinson so far to the right he quit the party in response to the appointment.

Over the last year, Robinson has been banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and had his YouTube account placed under serious restrictions. This month, he was also banned from SnapChat, and the EDL he used to lead was among a handful of far-right groups banned from Facebook.

Since his personal Facebook page went dark in February, he’s been promoting his new web site as the primary destination for his supporters.

It features news about his activities — mainly his ongoing fights against social media platforms and an overturned contempt of court conviction in the UK — as well as summaries of basically any sufficiently divisive anti-Islam, anti-immigration, or pro-Brexit stories his writers come across.

The domain he’s using is tr.news, a new gTLD domain in a Donuts-owned registry. It was registered in December via GoDaddy.

Given it’s a two-character domain, it will have been registry-reserved and would have commanded a premium price. Other two-character .news domains are currently available on GoDaddy for between $200 and $10,000 for the first year.

It will come as no surprise at all for you to learn that the domain was transferred out of GoDaddy, which occasionally kicks out customers with distasteful views, to Epik, now de facto home of those with far-right views, a couple of weeks after the web site launched.

The irony of the choice of domain is that many governments would claim that tr.news — indeed any two-character domain, in any gTLD, which matches any country-code — rightfully belongs to Turkey, a nation of about 80 million nominal Muslims.

TR is the ISO 3166-1 two-character code for Turkey, and until a couple of years ago new gTLD registries were banned from selling any of these ccTLD-match two-letter domains, due to complaints from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

Many governments, including the UK and US, couldn’t care less who registers their matching domain. Others, such as France, Italy and Israel, want bans on specific domains such as it.pizza and il.army. Other countries have asked for blanket bans on their ccTLD-match being used at all, in any gTLD.

When new gTLDs initially launched in 2012, all ccTLD matches were banned by ICANN contract. In 2014, ICANN introduced a cumbersome government-approval system under which governments had to be consulted before their matches were released for registration.

Since December 2016, the policy (pdf) has been that registries can release any two-letter domains, subject to a provision that they not be used by registrants to falsely imply an affiliation with the country or registry with the matching ccTLD.

Robinson is certainly not making such an implication. I imagine he’d be as surprised as his readers to learn that his new domain has a Turkish connection. It’s likely the only people who noticed are ICANN nerds and the Turkish themselves.

Would the Turkish people look at tr.news and assume, from the domain alone, that it had some connection to Turkey? I think many would, though I have no idea whether they would assume it was endorsed by the government or the ccTLD registry.

Would Turkey — a government whose censorship regime makes Robinson’s social media plight look like unbounded liberalism — be happy to learn the domain matching its country code is being used primarily to deliver divisive content about the coreligionists of the vast majority of its citizens? Probably not.

But under current ICANN policy it does not appear there’s much that can be done about it. If Robinson is not attempting to pass himself of as an affiliate of the Turkish government or ccTLD registry, there’s no avenue for complaint.

However, after taking the cuffs off registries with its December 2016 pronouncement, allowing them to sell two-letter domains with barely any restrictions, ICANN has faced continued complaints from the GAC — complaints that have yet to be resolved.

The GAC has been telling ICANN for the last two years that some of its members believe the decision to release two-character names went against previous GAC advice, and ICANN has been patiently explaining the process it went through to arrive at the current policy, which included taking GAC advice and government comments into account.

In what appears to be a kind of peace offering, ICANN recently told the GAC (pdf) that it is developing an online tool that “will provide awareness of the registration of two-character domains and allow for governments to report concerns”.

The GAC, in its most-recent communique, told ICANN its members would test the tool and report back at the public meeting in Montreal this November.

The tool was not available in December, when tr.news was registered, so it’s not clear whether Turkey will have received a formal notification that its ccTLD-match domain is now registered, live, and being used to whip up mistrust of Muslims.

Update April 30: ICANN informs me that the tool has been available since February, but that it does not push notifications to governments. Rather, governments can search to see if their two-letter codes have been registered in which gTLDs.

ICANN blocks .islam after government veto

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2018, Domain Policy

After six years, ICANN has finally killed off the applications for the new gTLDs .islam and .halal, due to objections from several governments.

It has also rejected the application for .persiangulf from the same applicant.

The decisions were made by the ICANN board of directors last Wednesday. The resolutions were published Friday night.

The board said: “it is apparent that the vast majority of the Muslim community (more than 1.6 billion members) object to the applications for .HALAL and .ISLAM.”

This actually means that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the 57-nation treaty group with a combined 1.6 billion nominal Muslim citizens, objected to the applications.

Several governments with large Muslim populations — including the UAE, Malaysia, Turkey, India and Iran — had also individually told ICANN on the record that they were not happy.

The view from these governments seemed to be that if there’s going to be a .islam, it should be run under the umbrella of a group such as the OIC, rather than some random tuppenny ha’penny gTLD registry.

In Christianity, the comparable gTLD .catholic is run by an affiliate of the world’s oldest pedophile ring, while .bible is being run as a propaganda tool by a group of sexually repressed, homophobic American evangelicals.

The ICANN board said its decision to reject .islam and .halal was in tune with its “core values” to protect the “public interest”.

The decision was based “on its consideration of and commitment to ICANN’s Mission and core values set forth in the Bylaws, including ensuring that this decision is in the best interest of the Internet community and that it respects the concerns raised by the majority of the community most impacted by the proposed .HALAL and .ISLAM gTLDs”.

It’s been avoiding making this decision since at least December 2013.

But it has now voted that the two applications “should not proceed”. It does not appear to have banned organizations from applying for the strings in subsequent application rounds.

The applicant for .islam and .halal was Turkey-based Asia Green IT System. It applications have been “on-hold” since the GAC issued non-consensus advice against them back in April 2013.

The OIC filed Community Objections against both gTLDs with the International Chamber of Commerce, but failed on both counts.

Having failed to see any progress, in December 2015, AGIT filed an Independent Review Process appeal against its treatment by ICANN, and won.

The November 2017 IRP decision held that the “on-hold” status was a “new policy”, unilaterally put in place by ICANN Org, that unfairly condemned AGIT’s applications to indefinite limbo.

The panel ordered ICANN to make its damn mind up one way or the other and pay about $270,000 in costs.

While rejecting the applications may not seem unreasonable, it’s an important example of a minority group of governments getting an essential veto over a gTLD.

Under the rules of the 2012 application round, consensus GAC advice against an application is enough to kill it stone dead.

But the GAC had merely said (pdf):

The GAC recognizes that Religious terms are sensitive issues. Some GAC members have raised sensitivities on the applications that relate to Islamic terms, specifically .islam and .halal. The GAC members concerned have noted that the applications for .islam and .halal lack community involvement and support. It is the view of these GAC members that these applications should not proceed.

That’s non-consensus advice, which is expected to initiate bilateral engagement with ICANN’s board before a decision is made.

In the case of .persiangulf, also applied for by AGIT and also now rejected, the GAC didn’t even give non-consensus advice.

In fact, in its July 2013 Durban communique (pdf) is explicitly stated it “does not object to them proceeding”.

This appears to have been a not atypical GAC screw-up. The minutes of the Durban meeting, published months later, showed that the Gulf Cooperation Council states had in fact objected — there’s a bit of a dispute in that part of the world about whether it’s the “Persian Gulf” or “Arabian Gulf” — so the GAC would have been within its rights to publish non-consensus advice.

This all came out when the GCC filed its own IRP against ICANN, which it won.

The IRP panel in that case ordered ICANN to outright reject .persiangulf. Two years later, it now has.

While the three gTLDs in question are now going into “Will Not Proceed” status, that may not be the end of the story. One “Will Not Proceed” applicant, DotConnectAfrica, has taken ICANN to court in the US over its .africa application.

Muslim world still thinks .islam isn’t kosher

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Policy

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has repeated its objection to the gTLDs .islam and .halal ever seeing the light of day.

OIC Secretary General Yousef Al-Othaimeen wrote to ICANN earlier this month to declare that its position on the two controversial applications has not changed since it initially objected to them in 2013.

The OIC comprises the foreign ministers from 57 majority-Muslim countries and these ministers recently voted unanimously to re-adopt the 2013 objection, Al-Othaimeen said (pdf).

The group “maintain the position that the new gTLDs with Islamic identity are extremely sensitive in nature as they concern the entire Muslim nature” he wrote.

He reiterated “official opposition of the OIC Member states towards the probable authorization that might allow the use of these gTLDs .islam and .halal by any entity.”

This puts ICANN between a rock an a hard place.

The applicant for both strings, Turkish outfit Asia-Green IT Systems (AGIT), won an Independent Review Process case against ICANN last November.

The IRP panel ruled that ICANN broke its own bylaws when it placed .islam and .halal into permanent limbo — an “On Hold” status pending withdrawal of the applications or OIC approval — in 2014.

ICANN’s board accepted the ruling and bounced the decision on whether to finally approve or reject the bids to its Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, which is currently mulling over the problem.

Technically, it’s “non-consensus Governmental Advisory Committee advice”, which means the board has some wriggle room to simply accept the advice and reject the applications.

But AGIT’s lawyer disagrees, recently telling ICANN (pdf) its options are to approve the bids or facilitate dialogue towards their approval, rather like ICANN is doing with .amazon right now.

ICANN puts .islam and other gTLD bids in limbo

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2014, Domain Policy

Or should that be Barzakh?

Rather than making the tricky decision on whether to approve .islam and .halal new gTLD applications, ICANN seems to have place both bids into permanent limbo.

It’s also put off calls on applications for .spa, .amazon, .wine and .vin, due to objections from the Governmental Advisory Committee.

On .islam and .halal, ICANN chair Steve Crocker wrote to Turkish applicant Asia Green IT System to say that the New gTLD Program Committee will not address the bids until AGIT has worked out its differences with the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

He noted that AGIT has expressed a willingness in the past to work with the OIC, but that the OIC has formally decided to object to the two applications. Crocker wrote:

There seems to be a conflict between the commitments made in your letters and the concerns raised in letters to ICANN urging ICANN not to delegate the strings. Given these circumstances, the NGPC will not address the applications further until such time as the noted conflicts have been resolved.

This is not a formal rejection of the applications, but ICANN seems to have placed them in a limbo that will only be resolved when AGIT withdraws from the program or secures OIC support.

There’s also delaying treatment for .wine and .vin, which have become the subject of a raging row between Europe on the one hand and the US, Canada and Australia on the other.

Europe wants these two wine-related gTLDs to be subject to strict rules on who can register domains containing geographic indicators, such as “Champagne”. The others don’t.

ICANN in response has commissioned a third-party study on GIs, which it expects to be able to consider at its Singapore public meeting next month. Again, a decision has been avoided.

The two applicants for .spa don’t have any closure either.

Spa is the name of a town in Belgium, whereas the two applicants — Donuts and Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council — intend to use the string in its English dictionary sense.

There was a bit of a scandal during the Buenos Aires meeting last November when it was suggested that Belgium was using its position on the GAC to shake down the applicants for money.

Belgium denied this, saying the city of Spa didn’t stand to gain financially from the deals that it was trying to make with applicants. Some money would go to “the community served by .spa”, Belgium said, without elaboration.

ICANN has now decided to put .spa on hold, but wants to know more about these talks:

ICANN will not enter into registry agreements with applicants for the identified string at this time. The NGPC notes concern about concluding the discussions with the applicants and will request the GAC to (1) provide a timeline for final consideration of the string, and (2) identify the “interested parties” noted in the GAC advice.

Finally, ICANN has yet again delayed making a call on Amazon’s application for .amazon — until at least Singapore — out of an abundance of legal caution.

The GAC recommended that ICANN should reject .amazon because a few Latin American states claim ownership of the string due to it being the same as the Amazon region they share.

Amazon and others claim that it would be in violation of international law that prevents governments interfering with the use of trademarks for the GAC to block .amazon.

ICANN’s NGPC said:

ICANN has commissioned an independent, third-party expert to provide additional analysis on the specific issues of application of law at issue, which may focus on legal norms or treaty conventions relied on by Amazon or governments. The analysis is expected to be completed in time for the ICANN Singapore meeting so that the NGPC can consider it in Singapore.

In my view, the .amazon issue is the one most likely to bring a lawsuit to ICANN’s doorstep, so the organization clearly wants to get its legal position straight before making a call one way or the other.

All these decisions were made on Wednesday. You can read the NGPC’s resolution here and the important details here.

Applicant says .islam ban would damage ICANN

Kevin Murphy, December 23, 2013, Domain Policy

If ICANN decides to reject Asia Green IT’s applications for .islam and .halal it would “be dealing a blow to the new gTLD program’s credibility”, according to AGIT.

The two potential new gTLDs are currently in limbo, awaiting a decision by the ICANN’s board of directors’ New gTLD Program Committee, following stalemate within the Governmental Advisory Committee.

The Organization for Islamic Cooperation has objected to the applications, saying it represents 1.6 billion Muslims and that it’s “concerned” about the potential “misuse” of the names.

Mehdi Abbasnia, managing director of the Turkey-based company, recently wrote to ICANN too (pdf) to ask that ICANN speedily approve its applications, given that two formal OIC-backed Community Objections have already failed.

Abbasnia also wrote to DI on Friday (pdf) to reiterate many of the same points.

The two gTLDs are among only a handful originating it the Muslim world, he said, and the idea is to spur adoption of domain names among all Muslims.

Muslim communities the world over have a lot to gain from seeing their members empowered through namespaces that are better suited to their specific needs, easier for them to relate to and use and respectful of their culture and laws.

As Muslims ourselves, this is what we felt we could bring to our community when we first heard of the new gTLD program: our expertise as a technical enabler of TLDs by Muslims, for Muslims. We are looking to fuel the engine, not drive the car.

He added that AGIT prevailed in the objections filed against it, and the GAC failed to reach a consensus to object.

Some in ICANN circles have used the phrase “taking a second bite at the apple” to characterize attempts to overturn decisions and derail processes. In the case of our applications for .Halal and .Islam, the apple’s been eaten to the core!

The ball is now in the ICANN Board’s court. If it bows to the OIC’s pressure and blocks our TLD applications, not only will Muslims the world over be prevented from claiming their very own space on the Internet, but I believe it will also be dealing a blow to the new gTLD program’s credibility, and to the credibility of ICANN as a multi-stakeholder governance organization.

While I have no opinion on whether the two applications should be approved or not, I disagree with the apple metaphor.

AGIT is in receipt of formal “GAC Advice on New gTLDs” explaining a non-consensus objection. That’s clearly envisaged by the Applicant Guidebook, and there a process for dealing with it: ICANN’s board talks to the GAC to understand the extent of its members’ concerns and then explains itself after it makes a decision one way or the other.

There doesn’t seem to be an abuse of process by the OIC or GAC here, just a very tricky question for the ICANN board to answer.

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