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July 30, 2014 – The world's main Internet address authority is engaging in a legal fight to protect Web domains tied to Iran, Syria and North Korea.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, is trying to fend off an effort by the Israel Law Center, an Israel-based civil rights organization that is seeking a lien on several domain name suffixes, such as .kp for Korea, .ir for Iran and .sy for Syria.
Icann argues in court documents that the national domains aren't property. The domains operate "for the benefit of the people of Iran, Syria and North Korea," but aren't technically owned by those countries, "or anyone else, for that matter," the organization said in a series of motions filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The Israeli group is looking for ways to collect hundreds of millions of dollars, owed to American victims of terrorist attacks and other incidents, from U.S. court judgments that held the governments of Iran, North Korea and Syria liable.
Previously, the group has targeted wire transfers, real estate and bank accounts in an effort to collect money from the countries, but those efforts are still tied up in court amid resistance from the financial institutions caught in the crossfire.
A domain name is "something that you can seize, it's something that you can put a lien on and it belongs to someone," said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the president of the Israel Law Center. "Everybody who would want to use the domain name and renew a license would have to go through us."
The challenge to Icann comes as the Los Angeles-based organization is building a new oversight group to replace the U.S. government, which has technically delegated management of the Internet's address system to Icann since 1998.
The government plans to turn over that relationship to a yet-to-be formed international overseer by the end of 2015.
Icann runs the process that assigns so-called top level domains, such as .com and .org, to registrars that can then tie them to websites. It also assigns "country code" domains to governments or other quasigovernmental groups.
The sponsor of the Iranian .ir domain, for instance, is technically the Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences, an affiliate of Iran's Ministry of Science. Calls made to the institute after local business hours weren't immediately answered.
Icann doesn't collect any revenue by assigning national Web domain suffixes. Icann argued the suffixes have no intrinsic worth because reassigning them to a creditor would break the directory for the websites that use them, destroying whatever value they had in the first place.