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June 24, 2014 – They’re fighting terror — one IP address at a time.
Sixty victims of terror and their family members, who are looking to collect a total $1.2 billion in legal judgments against countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea, are taking the unprecedented step of trying to seize those nations’ Internet domain names.
The victims, including American Seth Klein Ben Haim, who was injured in an Iran-sanctioned 1995 Palestinian attack on a bus in the Gaza strip, filed a federal court lawsuit Tuesday in Washington, D.C. against the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
ICANN is a Commerce Department agency that controls the Internet’s global domain name system and collects fees from countries like Iran for its use of .ir and other IP addresses used by the Iranian government.
“This is the first time that terror victims have moved to seize the domain names, IPs and Internet licenses of terrorism-sponsoring states like Iran,” said victims’ attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner.
“The Iranians must be shown that there is a steep price to be paid for their sponsorship of terrorism. In business and legal terms it is quite simple – we are owed money, and these assets are currency worth money,” she said.
In the past Darshan-Leitner has successfully seized $120 million in Iranian assets from sources like real estate, historic artifacts and bank accounts for victims.
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.
“It’s unclear what ICANN can do or what their authority is,” she added.
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.
Other victims in this case include the children of the late Leah Stern, a Staten Island woman who was killed in a double suicide bombing by Hamas in Jerusalem’s open-air fruit market Mahane Yehuda in 1997.
Her family won a $300 million federal court judgment against Iran in 2003, though they’ve been unable to collect on the award.
A spokesman for ICANN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.