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Will Terror Victims Own the Iranian Internet?

A U.S. district court has ruled that a group of U.S. and Israeli victims of terrorism financed by Iran, Syria, and North Korea can take control of the internet licenses and domain names belonging to those countries. Haaretz reports:

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed to issue a seizure order that will go into effect in 10 days, on grounds that the victims, who have been awarded compensation in previous judgments, have yet to receive their awards.

The court papers have been served on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, DC, which administrator the World Wide Web.

Attorney Nitsana Darshan Leitner of Shurat Hadin, who petitioned the court with attorney Robert Tolchin of New York, told Haaretz that the seizure order was not aimed at shutting down regular websites in Iran, but would enable the terror victims to seize the funds Iran pays to ICANN every time someone there wants to open a new website or renew the registration of a website with the .ir suffix.

The New York Post observes that this is the first time anyone has tried such a move, which may not succeed:

Ned Rosenthal, an intellectual property lawyer who is not involved in the case, called the victims’ legal strategy “very creative and very aggressive.”

But Rosenthal and his colleague Beth Goldman were skeptical that the suit would ultimately prevail.

“I don’t know that ICANN even holds that kind of money or assets to pay out,” Goldman said, explaining that the power to control IP addresses and domain names often belongs to third party registries based in each country. […]

Rosenthal noted that if ICANN tried to shut down a domain name belonging to an ally like Great Britain’s .uk there would be massive pushback.

This ruling comes as Washington moves ahead with its plans to hand over control of the internet in laste 2015, when ICANN will be replaced by an as-yet-unestablished international group. The transfer of power is still a year away, however, and ICANN must respond within 10 days.

Given the kind of uproar that compliance with the court would likely cause around the world—many countries are already convinced that the U.S. wields disproportionate sway over the Internet in the wake of the Snowden revelations—we can’t imagine ICANN quietly complying with this order. But then again, stranger things have happened…

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