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September 29, 2016
The battle of Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center and the American families of victims it represents who hold unsatisfied US federal court judgments against Iran, Syria and North Korea for sponsoring terrorism amounting to more than a billion dollars kicked into high gear recently, with the NGO filing a motion to push forward with trying to seize Internet assets used by those countries.
The Jerusalem Post acquired copies of the unreported court documents filed at the end of last week. Also last week, the nuclear negotiations with Iran that connect to frozen assets came back to the headlines.
The move to seize the Internet assets is unprecedented and could have great consequences beyond the already noteworthy cases.
The assets that the NGO and US firm Raines Feldman LLP seek to seize include all the “top-level domain” names provided by those countries, including the .ir TLD, the Farsi-letter version of the .ir TLD and all Internet Protocol addresses being utilized by the Iranian government and its agencies as well as those being used by Syria and North Korea.
Subpoenas to produce documents related to the Internet assets were served on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an agency of the US Department of Commerce, which is the administrator of the World Wide Web, in June.
At the time, the NGO said that “domain names (such as http://www.usa.gov/) are the unique words or phrases that users depend upon to find places and information on the Internet.
Domain names are structured hierarchically; the top of being the “top-level” domain (TLD), the suffix attached to the domain name, such as “.com”, and “country-code” TLD’s (ccTLD’s) such as “.ir,” for Iran.”
It added that “countries are authorized by ICANN to allocate those TLD’s, making “.ir,” belonging to judgment debtor Iran, a practical asset.”
Shurat Hadin Director Nitzana Darshan-Leitner said: “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 and are attempting to satisfy their court judgments.”
But the attempted Iran seizure, which was also tried with Syria and North Korea, was just the opening salvo.
On July 29, ICAAN filed a motion to quash the subpoenas, arguing that: 1) Internet country codes are not property that can be seized, 2) these codes are not owned by the countries to which they are assigned, 3) the codes are not located within Washington, DC, where the case is occurring, 4) that US law blocks the courts from involvement in such property since it is not used for commercial activity in the US, 5) ICAAN does not have unilateral power to delegate the codes to the NGO, and 6) forced delegation of the codes would destroy their value and jeopardize the operation of the Internet.
Shurat Hadin responded by asking the court to extend its time for discovering evidence from ICAAN to prove that the Internet assets can be seized, and cited several items of evidence already uncovered.
For example, it said that the country of Columbia sold its code for $109 million in 2014 to a US company called Neustar, showing that the country code is property that can be seized and has value that countries can even market for profit.
In a similar example, it said that the government of Tuvalu recently sold its country code to Verisign for more than $100m.
The NGO noted that ICAAN has authority to delegate country codes.