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Terror fears prompt security crackdown for ICANN 55

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN is bringing in metal detectors, bag searches and ID checks at its forthcoming public meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.

The measures are being introduced despite ICANN’s assurances that it considers the chance of terrorism at ICANN 55 to be “LOW”.

In a statement today, ICANN meetings boss Nick Tomasso said:

we are in constant and on-going communication with our hosts and the Moroccan government, to assess any security concerns surrounding the upcoming meeting. In addition, we are working with a highly respected global security-consulting firm, which gives us on-going updates of potential risks. This firm has also assigned a senior level analyst to work with ICANN.

As of this date, the assessments of these various security experts is that there is only a LOW risk of any type of terrorist activity in Morocco.

The statement comes as some members of the ICANN community have been expressing concerns about visiting Morocco, in the light of recent ISIS/Daesh-linked terrorist attacks in North Africa.

Morocco itself has not been the target of any successful Daesh attacks, though members of the cell behind the November attacks in Paris are reported to have Moroccan links.

Marrakech was bombed by an Al Qaeda-linked group in 2011.

Several Western governments urge visitors to the country to exercise caution, saying there’s a high risk of terrorist attacks.

The UK government says, for example:

There is a high threat from terrorism in Morocco. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.

The US government is less alarmist:

The potential for terrorist violence against U.S. interests and citizens exists in Morocco. Moroccan authorities continue to disrupt groups seeking to attack U.S. or Western-affiliated and Moroccan government targets, arresting numerous individuals associated with international terrorist groups. With indications that such groups still seek to carry out attacks in Morocco, it is important for U.S. citizens to be keenly aware of their surroundings and adhere to prudent security practices such as avoiding predictable travel patterns and maintaining a low profile.

I’ve heard community members speculate that an ICANN meeting, with its broad international mix of delegates, some governmental, might be an attractive target.

Personally, I’m not convinced the risk is much greater than it would be in any Western capital. My mother is vacationing unaccompanied in Egypt around the same time, and I’m fine with that.

However, ICANN seems to be taking the concerns seriously.

Tomasso added the following, non-exhaustive list of new security measures for ICANN 55:

  • Every delegate will now need a government-issued ID to pick up a badge at the registration desk.
  • There will be increased security screening for those entering our meeting venue, which may include metal detectors, magnetic wands and bag checks.
  • There will be advanced verification of delegate registration information by Moroccan authorities.
  • Security will be increased at the hotels where delegates are staying.
  • We are establishing a 24/7 operations center at the venue.

It’s not exactly TSA-levels of privacy invasion, but I can see some would-be delegates being put off by the extra hassle.

If ICANN were to cancel the Marrakech meeting, it would risk seriously pissing off African community members.

The Marrakech meeting was originally scheduled for 2015, but it was postponed due to fears about the Ebola virus, which at the time was running rampant in African countries thousands of miles away.

In 2010, ICANN was criticized for its handling of security concerns around a meeting in Kenya, where at least 74 delegates cancelled their registrations over terror fears.

ICANN also cancelled a planned 2011 meeting in Jordan due to Middle East security concerns.

ICANN 55 is scheduled for March 5 to 10.

Judge blocks seizure of Iran’s ccTLD

Kevin Murphy, November 13, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has won a court battle, and avoided a major political incident, over an attempt by terrorism victims to seize ccTLDs belonging to Iran, Korea and Syria.

A District of Columbia judge ruled this week that while ccTLDs may be a form of “property” under the law, they’re not “attachable” property.

Attachment is a legal concept used when creditors attempt to seize assets belonging to debtors.

The ruling overturns a request by a group of terrorism survivors, led by attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, to have .ir, .sy, .kp, سور, and ايران. transferred to them in lieu of payment of previous court rulings.

Darshan-Leitner has previously secured US court judgments amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars against the three nations. Because the nations have not paid these penalties, she’s been using the courts to seize state-owned assets in the US instead.

But US District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled (pdf) earlier this week:

the country code Top Level Domain names at issue may not be attached in satisfaction of plaintiffs’ judgments because they are not property subject to attachment under District of Columbia law.

However, he added in a footnote:

But the conclusion that ccTLDs may not be attached in satisfaction of a judgment under District of Columbia law does not mean that they cannot be property. It simply means that they are not attachable property within this statutory scheme.

Drawing on “sparse” case law, Lamberth’s rationale appears to be that domain names are not a product, they’re a service. He wrote:

The ccTLDs exist only as they are made operational by the ccTLD managers that administer the registries of second level domains within them and by the parties that cause the ccTLDs to be listed on the root zone file. A ccTLD, like a domain name, cannot be conceptualized apart from the services provided by these parties. The Court cannot order plaintiffs’ insertion into this arrangement.

The ruling, which may of course be challenged by the plaintiffs, helps ICANN and the US government avoid a huge political embarrassment at a time when the links between the two are being dissolved and relations with Iran are defrosting.

Terror victims try to seize five ccTLDs

Kevin Murphy, July 30, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN is fighting a US court action that could see the ccTLDs of Iran, Syria and Korea being seized by victims of terrorism.

While ICANN has not been sued as such, it’s been named in three “writs of attachment”, which seek to force the organization to hand over control of .ir, .sy, .kp, سور, and ايران.

This audacious attempt to take over three nations’ domains is being attempted by lawyers representing victims of state-sponsored terrorism, reportedly led by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner.

Darshan-Leitner has secured billions of dollars worth of judgments against these states in US courts over the last decade.

But because the states won’t pay up, she’s been getting US courts to seize state-owned US-based assets, such as valuable real estate, instead.

Now her attention has turned to domain names.

The writs against ICANN, issued by a District of Columbia court a month ago, would force ICANN to hand over any assets belonging to Iran, Syria and Korea.

But ICANN says it cannot and should not be made to do so, filing hundreds of pages of court documents yesterday explaining why ccTLDs are not property that can be “attached”.

“Attachment” is a legal term used in the process of transferring assets from debtors to creditors.

In its defense, ICANN argues that allowing the seizure would do nothing less than jeopardize the globally interoperable internet:

First, a ccTLD simply is not “property” subject to attachment. Second, although operating for the benefit of the people of Iran, Syria and North Korea, respectively, the relevant ccTLDs are not “owned” by the defendants or anyone else, for that matter. Third, the .IR, .SY and .KP ccTLDs are not “located” in the District of Columbia or even the United States, and therefore are beyond the reach of Plaintiffs’ Writs of Attachment. Fourth, even if these ccTLDs could be characterized as “property in the United States of the defendants,” this Court would lack jurisdiction over these proceedings, according to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Fifth, ICANN does not unilaterally have the capability or authority to transfer the .IR, .SY or .KP ccTLDs to Plaintiffs. Finally, a forced transfer of the .IR, .SY and .KP ccTLDs would destroy whatever value may exist in these ccTLDs, would wipe out the hundreds of thousands of second-level domain names registered therein by various individuals, businesses and charitable organizations, and could jeopardize the single, global, interoperable structure the Internet.

“While we sympathize with what plaintiffs may have endured, ICANN’s role in the domain name system has nothing to do with any property of the countries involved,” ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey said in a statement.

In its motions to quash the writs, ICANN describes how it has no contractual relationship and few dealings with the three ccTLD managers in question and how it has received no money from them.

It goes on to describe its relationship to the DNS root zone and the US Department of Commerce

The motion then compares domain names to street addresses and not “property”:

a ccTLD can be thought of as a zip code. That zip code may encompass many different addresses, and those addresses in turn may correspond to certain places on the Internet that people can access, such as websites. But the street address itself is not property, nor is the zip code in which the street address exists…To the extent a ccTLD is capable of a legal definition, it is a collection of technical and administrative services, rather than property

There’s a bunch of US case law that states second-level domain names are not property, which ICANN draws on heavily in its motion.

I’m not going to dwell on the legal issues at stake here too much, but the case is politically, to use an inappropriate word, explosive.

If ICANN were to receive a court order, instructing it to transfer ownership of .ir to Darshan-Leitner’s group, and had no option but to comply, we’re looking at a major international political incident.

Under ICANN’s current IANA arrangement, ICANN-recommended changes to ccTLD management are handled by Verisign, but only with the consent of the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The US Department of Commerce, of which NTIA is a part, would have to give its approval to the transfer of Iran’s ccTLD from an Iranian institution to an Israeli entity.

That, at a time when US-Iranian relations are softening, in light of the new ISIS crisis in Iraq.

It’s a recipe for putting the IANA contract at the center of what can mildly be described as a “political incident” unlike anything the internet has seen to date.

While the US government has a role in ccTLD redelegations today, due to its membership of the DNS root zone triumvirate, it has announced its intent to step away from IANA stewardship.

The NTIA will be replaced, possibly as early as September 2015, by a mechanism that the ICANN community has started to develop.

If we can assume that the US government’s current role may prove to be a buffer between the US courts and potentially devastating forced ccTLD redelegations, it’s not at all clear that the NTIA-replacement mechanism would hold the same kind of political clout.

Would an IANA without US stewardship be more susceptible to crazy US court rulings?

If the US court asserts its authority over the DNS root zone, by ordering the transfer of a ccTLD to a private entity, all ccTLD registries would have a right to be very nervous indeed.

The case also highlights the fact that ICANN is subject to US court jurisdiction — something likely to remain after the IANA stewardship transition — which also makes some nations very nervous.

Rumors have been floating around for a while that ICANN would like to move its headquarters and primary legal structure to Switzerland — it already has an office and a legal presence there — and this case will certainly provide ammunition for those who would like to see such a move happen.

US quietly revises IANA contract

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN will not be allowed to do business with groups designated by the US government as terrorists, according to one of many changes that have been quietly made to the IANA contract.

The IANA contract, which gives ICANN its ability to delegate top-level domains, is up for renewal following the publication of an RFP by the Department of Commerce earlier this month.

But Commerce substantially modified the RFP a week after its initial publication. It’s now about 20 pages longer than the original document, containing many new terms and conditions.

A few changes struck me as notable.

Terrorism

Among the changes is a ban on dealing with groups classified as supporting terrorism under the US Executive Order 13224, signed by President Bush in the aftermath of the the 9/11 attacks.

That Order bans US companies from working with organizations including the IRA, Hamas and Al Qaeda.

While the addition of this clause to the IANA contract doesn’t really change anything – as a US corporation ICANN is bound to comply with US trade sanctions – it may ruffle some feathers.

The new top-level domains Applicant Guidebook banned applicants involved in “terrorism” in its fourth draft, which caused complaints from some quarters.

It was revised over a year ago to instead make reference to US legal compliance and the US Office of Foreign Assets Control and its List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons.

Khaled Fattal of the Mulitlingual Internet Group, who first described the unqualified Guidebook ban on “terrorism” as “racist”, continued to voice opposition to this rule, most recently at the ICANN public forum in Dakar, suggesting it betrays ICANN’s American bias.

Data Rights

The revised IANA RFP also contains a new section detailing the US government’s “unlimited rights” to data and software produced by the IANA contractor.

The new RFP states: “The Government shall have… Unlimited rights in all data delivered under this contract, and in all data first produced in the performance of this contract”

“Data,” it says, “means recorded information, regardless of form or the medium on which it may be recorded. The term includes technical data and computer software. The term does not include information incidental to contract administration, such as financial, administrative, cost or pricing, or management information.”

It’s not entirely clear what this clause could potentially cover.

By it’s very nature, much of the data produced by IANA is public – it needs to be in order for the DNS to function – but could it also cover data such as redelegation communications with other governments or private DNSSEC keys?

New gTLDs

There are no big changes to the section on new gTLDs, just one minor amendment.

Whereas the old RFP said that IANA must show that ICANN “followed its policy framework” to approve a gTLD, the new version says it must have “followed its own policy framework”, which doesn’t seem to change the meaning.

Other amendments to the RFP appear to be formatting changes or clarifications.

The more substantial additions – including the terrorism and data rights sections – appear to be standard boilerplate text designed to tick some boxes required by US procurement procedure, rather than being written specifically for ICANN’s benefit.

You can download the original and revised RFP documents here.

What does ICANN say about terrorism?

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2010, Domain Registries

While it’s true that ICANN has excised specific references to terrorism from its new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook, don’t expect any such groups to be awarded TLDs.

As I reported in September, the AGB no longer contains the explicit mention of “terrorism”, which had caused complaints to be filed by a few members of the community.

But it does contain text that makes it abundantly clear that any group or nation the US considers a supporter of terrorism will have an extremely hard time finding approval.

Under a new section entitled “Legal Compliance”, ICANN notes that it “must comply with all U.S. Laws, rules, and regulations” including the sanctions program overseen by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control.

OFAC administers a List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. If you’re on the SDN list, American companies cannot do business with you without a license.

While ICANN has applied for exemption licenses in the past, in order to be able to deal with organizations in US-unfriendly nations (on ccTLD matters, presumably), the AGB now states:

ICANN generally will not seek a license to provide goods or services to an individual or entity on the SDN List. In the past, when ICANN has been requested to provide services to individuals or entities that are not SDNs, but are residents of sanctioned countries, ICANN has sought and been granted licenses as required. In any given case, however, OFAC could decide not to issue a requested license.

If you’ve never seen this list before, it can be downloaded here. It’s currently 475 pages long, and while it’s certainly a globally inclusive document, parts of it do read like the Baghdad phone book.

(Interestingly, many of the listed a.k.a’s are actually domain names)

Anybody who wanted ICANN to replace the amorphous term “terrorism” with something a little more specific have had their wishes granted.

No more hypothetical debate is required about whether Hamas, for example, is a terrorist group or a movement of freedom fighters. It’s in the book, so it’s probably not getting a TLD.

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