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2005: The year the US government undermined the internet

And no, it's not what you're thinking

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Legal semantics

ICANN's efforts to turn itself into the Internet's government in this area stretch the phrase "redelegation" itself. Despite repeated requests by ccTLD owners themselves, it is ICANN that insists on calling the process of changing the name of the administrative or technical owners of a particular ccTLD "delegation".

The operators themselves prefer the terms "change of manager", "change of technical contact" and, in the case of more technical changes "change of name servers".

The advantage of the term "delegation" is that it has legal connotations. If you are delegating something, it automatically implies that the delegator has some form of legal authority over the delegee. This is something that most country code managers would strongly disagree with in the case of ICANN.

The case of Iraq

Why did the US government allow this sleight-of-hand from an organisation that it has overall control over? Simple: Iraq.

When the US government took over Afghanistan in 2001, it was fortunate in that the current ccTLD owner was killed during bombing of Kabul. It simple forged the man's signature on a piece of paper handing over control to the US-created authority and the job was done.

Control of Iraq's domain was far more complicated however. The .iq domain was registered instead to two brothers living in the US. The Elashi brothers and other members of their family at the time were also in US jail awaiting trial for funding terrorists - which in the end amounted to shipping computer parts to Libya and Syria and for which they all received hefty sentences.

The US was keen to turn over Iraq's internet over the US-run administration but the whole process was political dynamite. Head of the temporary government, Paul Bremer, wrote to ICANN head Paul Twomey requesting ownership of .iq, but Twomey had to say it wasn't possible because the rules dictated that the Elashi brothers agree - something that was pretty unlikely. We only found out about that letter a year later however, and the letter does not appear on ICANN's website.

The situation infuriated the US administration which immediately sought to change how things were done. At the same time however, the US government could not be seen to be demanding that the .iq domain be handed over to whoever it said, because it would undermine its very position at the head of the Internet. It was also inevitable that any such move would attract media attention and criticism.

And so a method was devised by Washington and ICANN to ensure that the rules could be bent. And so they have been. As a result no one single soul is better off, and governments have been given control over the internet by the backdoor. Now you know. ®

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Related links

IANA report on .iq [pdf]
IANA report on .kz [pdf]
US internet "principles"

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