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What time is it? For ICANN, even that can be a controversial question

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2019, Domain Tech

ICANN has found itself involved in a debate about whether Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea should be recognized.

It’s not unusual for ICANN to find itself in geopolitical controversies — see .amazon for the most recent example — but this time, it’s not about domain names.

It’s about time zones.

One of the little-known functions ICANN provides via its IANA division is the hosting of the so-called TZ Database, which keeps track of all international time zones, daylight savings time practices, and so on.

The database is referenced by scores of operating systems, web sites, libraries and software development kits. It’s used by MacOS, many major Unix/Linux distributions, Java and PHP.

IANA took over the database in 2011, after the original administrator, David Olson, was hit with a bogus lawsuit from an astrology company.

It’s currently managed by University of California computer scientist Paul Eggert. He’s not an ICANN employee. He’s responsible for making changes to the database, which IANA hosts.

There are no complex layers of policy-making and bureaucracy, just an ICANN-hosted mailing list. it very much harks back to the pre-ICANN/Jon Postel/Just A Guy model of international database administration.

But because time zones are set by the governments of territories, and the ownership of territories is sometimes in dispute, the TZ Database often finds itself involved in political debates.

The latest of these relates to Crimea.

As you will recall, back in 2014 the Russian Federation annexed Crimea — part of Ukraine and formerly part of the Soviet Union.

The United Nations condemned the move as illegal and still refuses to recognize the region as part of Russia. The de facto capital city of Crimea is now Simferopol.

As part of the takeover, Russia switched its new territories over to Moscow Time (MSK), a time zone three hours ahead of UTC that does not observe daylight savings.

The rest of Ukraine continues to use Eastern European Time, which is UTC+2, and Eastern European Summer Time (UTC+3).

This means that in the winter months, Crimea is an hour out of whack with the rest of Ukraine.

Currently, the TZ Database’s entry for Simferpol contains the country code “RU”, instead of “UA”.

This means that if you go to Crimea and try to configure your Unix-based system to the local time, you’ll see an indication in the interface that you’re in Russia, which understandably pisses off Ukrainians and is not in line with what most governments think.

You can check this out on some time zone web sites. The services at time.is and timeanddate.com both refer to Europe/Simferopol as being in Ukraine, while WorldTimeServer says it’s in Russia.

The TZ Database mailing list has recently received a couple of complaints from Ukrainians, including the head of the local cyber police, about this issue.

Serhii Demediuk, head of the Cyberpolice Department of the National Police of Ukraine, wrote in December:

by referring Crimea with the country code “RU”, your organization actually accepts and supports the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation who’s armed forces annexed this part of Ukraine. Such recognition may be considered as a criminal offense by the Ukrainian criminal law and we will be obliged to start formal criminal proceedings

It’s the longstanding principle of the TZ Database administrators that they’re not taking political positions when they assign country-codes to time zones, they’re just trying to be practical.

If somebody shows up for a business meeting in Crimea in December, they don’t want their clock to be an hour behind their local host’s for the sake of political correctness.

But Eggert nevertheless has proposed a patch that he believes may address Ukrainian concerns. It appears to have Simferopol listed as both RU and UA.

Amid Ukraine crisis, Russia scared ICANN might switch off its domains

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2014, Domain Policy

Russia is reportedly worried that the current wave of Western sanctions against it may wind up including ICANN turning off its domain names.

According to a report in the local Vedomosti newspaper, the nation’s Security Council is to meet Monday to discuss contingency plans for the possibility of being hit by internet-based sanctions.

Part of the discussion is expected to relate to what would happen if the US government forced ICANN to remove the local ccTLDs — .ru, .рф, and the discontinued .su — from the DNS root, according to Vedomosti’s source.

The paper reports, citing a source, that “officials want to control the entire distribution system of domain names in RUnet entirely”. RUnet is an informal term for the Russian-language web.

The report goes on to explain that the government’s goal is not to isolate the Russian internet, but to ensure it remains functioning within the country if its ccTLDs are cut off in the rest of the world.

Russia has been hit by sanctions from the US and Europe in recent months due to its involvement in the Ukraine crisis, but so far these have been of the regular economic kind.

Frankly, I find the possibility of the US government asking ICANN to intervene in this way — and ICANN complying — unlikely in the extreme. It would go dead against the current US policy of removing itself almost entirely from the little influence it already has over the root system.