DNS: March 2008 Archives


March 5, 2008

I wrote before about a US court blocking access to Wikileaks. The Judge dropped the order and then the bank dropped the lawsuit. Turns out that this wasn't the only such incident, though. Treasury blacklisted Steve Marshall's travel agency and forced his registrar to disable his domain for allegedly helping Americans travel to Cuba:

"I came to work in the morning, and we had no reservations at all," Mr. Marshall said on the phone from the Canary Islands. "We thought it was a technical problem."

It turned out, though, that Mr. Marshall's Web sites had been put on a Treasury Department blacklist and, as a consequence, his American domain name registrar, eNom Inc., had disabled them. Mr. Marshall said eNom told him it did so after a call from the Treasury Department; the company, based in Bellevue, Wash., says it learned that the sites were on the blacklist through a blog.

Either way, there is no dispute that eNom shut down Mr. Marshall's sites without notifying him and has refused to release the domain names to him. In effect, Mr. Marshall said, eNom has taken his property and interfered with his business. He has slowly rebuilt his Web business over the last several months, and now many of the same sites operate with the suffix .net rather than .com, through a European registrar. His servers, he said, have been in the Bahamas all along.


A Treasury spokesman, John Rankin, referred a caller to a press release issued in December 2004, almost three years before eNom acted. It said Mr. Marshall's company had helped Americans evade restrictions on travel to Cuba and was "a generator of resources that the Cuban regime uses to oppress its people." It added that American companies must not only stop doing business with the company but also freeze its assets, meaning that eNom did exactly what it was legally required to do.

The situation here is much like that with Wikileaks. Both eNom (his direct registrar) and VeriSign (the registry for .com), so the US government can clearly force them to do stuff (I'm not passing judgement on the law here, just talking about power). Even if eNom were outside the US, USG could just force VeriSign to redirect the domain somewhere else. In fact, all three of the big TLDs (.com, .net, and .org are operated by organizations based in the US. That said, plenty of the ccTLDs are operated outside the US; .cu looks pretty safe. Obviously, in principle USG could lean on ICANN to reassign one of the ccTLDs, but it's hard to believe that ICANN's legitimacy could survive doing it.

Once we get past the question of what USG can or can't do, there's the question of what's smart. Obviously, the USG can make the lives of people they don't like miserable if they use .com but that just gives anyone who thinks they might piss of the government incentive to choose another TLD. So, you'd expect to see a new equilibrium where people who worry about this move their domains outside the US the same way that people do banking offshore, which is bad for any registrar or registry which operates in the US and not clearly any better for USG in the long term.