There's a reason they're country code ccTLDs

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This article in The Register complaining about redelegation of the ccTLDs .kz (Kazakhstan) and .iq (Iraq). What's special about these redelegations is that they weren't agreed to by the current registrys for those domains but were done on the basis of giving control to the civil authorities in the country.

The Register's complaints seem to be as follows:

  • This isn't the way that things have traditionally been done.
  • This was done at the behest of the US government (and that the .kz redelegation was done to facilitate the .iq redelegation).
  • This makes it easier for governments to censor the Internet.

None of these seems like very valid criticisms. The whole reason that ccTLDs exist is to have national registries. Indeed, the existence of a national (or at least discrete geopolitical) entity and the corresponding ISO 3166 country code is a necessary condition for the creation of the corresponding ccTLD. Given, that, it's perfectly reasonable for the civil authorities in that entity to control who gets to assign names inside what's effectively their ccTLD. Now, in the past delegation of those ccTLDs has been fairly sloppy. As the Register article notes:

Control of Iraq's domain was far more complicated however. The .iq domain was registered instead to two brothers living in the US. The Elashi brothers and other members of their family at the time were also in US jail awaiting trial for funding terrorists - which in the end amounted to shipping computer parts to Libya and Syria and for which they all received hefty sentences.

Given that this sort of ad hoc delegation is widespread, it's hardly surprising that we would eventually run into the situation where the existing delegee would not want to give up control. Assuming you accept that countries should be able to control their own ccTLDs, then there had to come a time when one of those transfers would be involuntary. It's not clear what the problem with that is. Moreover, I'd observe that the Register itself doesn't seem to have any problem with the idea that ICANN would take control of .com away from VeriSign, even though VeriSign demonstrably doesn't want to give it up.

As for the second point, I'm sure it's true that the US government encouraged ICANN to make this redelegation, but that doesn't inherently make it illegitimate. .iq was redelegated to the National Communications and Media Commission of Iraq, with the endorsement of Prime Minister Allawi. Whatever one thinks about the legitimace of the US invasion, if there's anyone in Iraq who's entitled to claim to be the current civilian authorities, presumably it's the Allawi administration. It's not like ICANN redelegated .iq to Halliburton.

The final point, however, that this somehow facilitates censorship, is the silliest. It's certainly true that having a permanent DNS name is an asset if you want to serve content, but there's no requirement that you use any particular name, as long as people know what your name is. The particular case the Register cites is that of Ali G:

Of course this would never happen. Except it has already. Within months of the government-run "Association of Kazakh IT Companies" getting control of Kazakhstan's internet domain, it shut down the website of British comic Sacha Baron Cohen (best known as Ali G). The site at www.borat.kz featured another of Cohen's comic creations, Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakh journalist. It was removed from the Internet.

Of course, it's not like this actually presents much of an obstacle to people finding Ali G content, since there's you know, Google. So, all that's really happened is that you can't go to www.borat.kz, but there's nothing stopping Cohen from picking a non Kazakhstan domain name:

The Register again:

Why? The president of the organisation said it was so the comic "can't bad-mouth Kazakhstan under the .kz domain name". If you want an example of government-owned and run censorship on the internet, you'll be hard pushed to find a clearer example.

Well, except for that whole China business and the thing with France, Yahoo, and the Nazi pariphernalia, and the fact that noone's actually stopping Cohen from distributing his content, yeah, I guess that's true.

There is one thing in this article that's sort of interesting if true:

When the US government took over Afghanistan in 2001, it was fortunate in that the current ccTLD owner was killed during bombing of Kabul. It simple forged the man's signature on a piece of paper handing over control to the US-created authority and the job was done.

I've never heard this story before, the Register doesn't present a citation, and a little bit of searching doesn't turn up another source for it.

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2 Comments

I agree with you. This is a non-story.

The examples cited here don't look terribly disturbing, and the issue at stake surely isn't censorship, but I can certainly foresee major political wrangles over future control of ccTLDs. What happens if two different governments--say, in a civil war--claim to be the legitimate government of country x, and demand control of the ccTLD for that country? What if the government of China claims entitlement to the ccTLD ".tw"? Or the government of Israel to the ccTLD ".ps"?

ICANN should have a clear policy regarding how it determines jurisdiction over ccTLDs. According to the article, it used to have such a policy--"no reassignment without mutual agreement"--but it has now abandoned that policy. It has thus opened the door to arbitrary decisions, and interminable political squabbles about those decisions. To head off those squabbles, it should state a clear, objective policy, and abide by it.

It almost doesn't matter what the policy is--it could, for instance, be "we hand out the appropriate ccTLD to any government the US government recognizes." As long as it's consistently applied, everybody knows what ICANN is selling, so to speak, and can decide to buy it or to go through the tortuous process of starting up an alternative DNS root server to compete. But an ad hoc, "we give the ccTLDs to whomever we think deserves it this week" approach will inevitably make the process even more political than even frank obedience to the US government.

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