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UN ruling may put .io domains at risk

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2019, 17:14:39 (UTC), Domain Policy

The future of .io domains may have been cast into doubt, following a ruling from the UN’s highest court.
The International Court of Justice this afternoon ruled (pdf) by a 13-1 majority that “the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible”.
The Chagos Archipelago is a cluster of islands that the UK calls the British Indian Ocean Territory.
It was originally part of Mauritius, but was retained by the UK shortly before Mauritius gained independence in 1968, so a strategic US military base could be built on Diego Garcia, one of the islands.
The native Chagossians were all forcibly relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles over the next several years. Today, most everyone who lives there are British or American military.
But the ICJ ruled today, after decades of Mauritian outrage, that “the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed when that country acceded to independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago”.
So BIOT, if the UK government follows the ruling, may cease to exist in the not-too-distant future.
BIOT’s ccTLD is .io, which has become popular with tech startups over the last few years and has over 270,000 domains.
It’s run by London-based Internet Computer Bureau Ltd, which Afilias bought for $70 million almost two years ago.
Could it soon become a ccTLD without a territory, leaving it open to retirement and removal from the DNS root?
It’s not impossible, but I’ll freely admit that I’m getting into heavy, early speculation here.
There are a lot of moving parts to consider, and at time of writing the UK government has not even stated how it will respond to the non-binding ICJ ruling.
Should the UK abide by the ruling and wind down BIOT, its IO reservation on the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 list could then be removed by the International Standards Organisation.
That would mean .io no longer fits the ICANN criteria for being a ccTLD, leaving it subject to forced retirement.
Retired TLDs are removed from the DNS root, meaning all the second-level domains under them stop working, obviously.
It’s not entirely clear how this would happen. ICANN’s Country Code Names Supporting Organization has not finished work on its policy for the retirement of ccTLDs.
TLDs are certainly not retired overnight, without the chance of an orderly winding-down.
Judging by the current state of ccNSO discussions, it appears that ccTLDs could in future be retired with or without the consent of their registry, with a five-to-10-year clock starting from the string’s removal from the ISO 3166-1 list.
Under existing ICANN procedures, I’m aware of at least two ccTLDs that have been retired in recent years.
Timor-Leste was given .tl a few years after it rebranded from Portuguese Timor, and .tp was removed from the DNS a decade later. It took five years for .an to be retired after the Netherlands Antilles’ split into several distinct territories in 2010.
But there are also weird hangers-on, such as the Soviet Union’s .su, which has an “exceptional reservation” on the ISO list and is still active (and inexplicably popular) as a ccTLD.
As I say, I’m in heavy speculative territory when it comes to .io, but it strikes me that not many registrants will consider when buying their names that the territory their TLD represents may one day simple poof out of existence at the stroke of a pen.
Afilias declined to comment for this article.

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Comments (13)

  1. Mark Thorpe says:

    ccTLD’s should not be used for a global business, period. That includes the most popular ccTLD extensions .co and .io
    You are at the mercy of the country that the ccTLD is based upon.
    At any time a ccTLD could be gone, prime example .io
    I said not to buy .io domains.
    Even .co, which l like better than .io, could be removed someday.
    .Com extension is the only true option for a global business IMO.
    .Net .Org .info are backup plans if you cannot get your .Com domain.

  2. This is all looking pretty tragic.
    There are countries like Anguilla that are generating 5% of their public budget through sale of .AI names. I see absolutely nothing wrong with a nation exporting their ccTLDs. It is a source of foreign exchange. If they want to give citizens a better price or a sunrise head start, by all means do that.
    As for the prospect of .IO ceasing to exist, this is actually insanity on the part of the planners. All policy-making aside, surely there is an intelligent and pragmatic decision where the .IO registry gets spun out.
    I am sorry folks but this right here is ICANN committing suicide. When you play fast and loose with people’s ability to be online, you lose the right to govern. When a registrar goes down, ICANN transitions to another registrar. It is not pretty but it works.
    So now when a registry loses its right to operate, then what happens? Let the ccTLD be auctioned to a party who will govern it. Is this is not patently obvious to everyone?
    In the meantime, in light of the absolutely ham-fisted GDPR deployment, I certainly don’t rule out more governance errors on the part of policy wonks and bureaucrats.
    Here is what I advise. Any domain that is registered at will be in the unstoppable DNS. In the event that .IO abruptly stops resolving, the domains can continue to resolving through the following tools:
    DNS Resolver:
    Free VPN:

    • Kevin Murphy says:


    • Mr James Stevens says:

      ICANN are specifically committed to the continuous uninterrupted operation of the internet, so it seems to me likely they would find a way forward to keep such a popular TLD.
      However, from the research I have done, I would say they need to conduct an in depth investigation into how dot-IO came to be registered, and the nature of the deal by which Afilias acquired the rights to run it, becuase a lot of what I have found simply doesn’t add up.

  3. Rob Golding says:

    Retirememt of ccTLDs always seems to take 5 years or longer – so for it to ‘cease’ there is plenty of time to transition to another domain.
    Much shorter timescales apply to policy changes, like when .co got pulled the 1st time – anyone building a brand based on an obscure ccTLD without a contingency plan could be in trouble

  4. .IO does not represent a country, it represents a vestige of the British Empire. As someone who grew up in that colonial system, went to British colonial schools, attended their churches, and was sent off during the summers to defend the border with colonial mercenaries, I have a lot of good things to say about that type of system, although on the whole it was clearly and plainly an abomination, especially for the Queen’s colonial subjects, no small number of which were uprooted and moved around like cattle.
    Retirement of .IO will give a lot of “cool” startup entrepreneurs and VCs a karmic awakening about the wisdom of investing in colonial arrangements, about which they chose to remain blissfully ignorant.
    Serves those entrepreneurs and VCs right for being on the wrong side of history, on the wrong side of the human rights equation, and for feeding such a monster. No sympathy.

  5. Sam Taylor says:

    On the basis of this “heavy, early speculation”, and Mrs May’s propensity for falling out with everyone with whom she is united, we may want to consider whether further registrations in the .uk ccTLD are a safe bet…

  6. william manning says:

    my favorite ccTLD forced removal has to be the .UM domain. I will admit to two screw ups. First, not telling Bob Braden that I was running this after Jon Postel handed it to me and second, being the first ccTLD hosted on IPv6-only servers. ICANN couldn’t see the servers and Bob told them he had no idea what was going on. just over 12,000 registrations – poof!

  7. Mr James Stevens says:

    I thought dot-YU was the largest TLD to ever be retired.
    Of course, if Mauritius somehow ran BIOT as some kind of self-governing dependency, similar to its status with the UK, it’s possible it could retain its dot-IO ccTLD, which has the potential to be a vital source of income, should the Chagossians ever be allowed to return to their homelands.

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