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Argentina stakes online claim on Falklands

Territorial dispute spills over into cyberspace

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Argentina has complained about the continued existence of the Falkland Islands' top-level internet address .fk, according to a local internet users society and other sources.

The nation's foreign ministry has written to global domain name overseer ICANN to claim the Falklands belong to Argentina, according to Internauta.

"The Cancillería de la República Argentina has sent a note to the president and CEO of ICANN asking them to consider [the Argentine domain name registry] NIC Argentina as the only valid delegated authority for the domain .ar, responsible for authorising domain name registrations in the territory of Argentina including those domiciled in Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands," Internauta said in a recent article on its website.

While both are officially recognised as British Overseas Territories, the Falkland Islands uses the domain .fk and the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands has been designated .gs.

Well-placed sources say that Argentina's latest communication with ICANN stops short of being a full request to officially transfer control of .fk to Argentina, and that any such request would be highly unlikely to succeed under ICANN's rules.

ICANN is responsible for delegating country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) to the appropriate manager. The .fk and .gs ccTLDs are currently assigned to the Falkland Islands government in Stanley.

The issue of the Falklands' ownership was raised at a open-mic forum by Internauta president Sergio Salinas Porto during ICANN's public meeting in Dakar, Senegal last week.

"The position that the Argentine government has had... is that the Malvinas Islands are not a state, not a territory, but rather they belong to the national territory of the Argentine Republic," Salinas Porto said, through an ICANN translator.

Under ICANN's rules, it is extraordinarily difficult for a ccTLD to change ownership without the written consent of the losing party. Such "redelegations" have happened, but never in the case of a territorial dispute between nations.

ICANN has a long-standing policy of deferring to the International Standards Organisation to answer the question of what is and is not a country or territory for the purposes of delegating ccTLDs.

The touchstone ISO 3166 list says "Falkland Islands (Malvinas)" is a distinct territory, so ICANN therefore deems it worthy of its own ccTLD.

"I think we are mature to make our own country lists. I think ICANN is mature enough to do it," Internauta's Salinas Porto said at the open session in Dakar last week.

He was followed to the microphone by Nigel Roberts, CEO of Jersey and Guernsey ccTLD manager Island Networks. Roberts asked ICANN to confirm that it "should not be in the business of deciding what is and is not a country".

In response, ICANN chairman Steve Crocker confirmed the organisation's commitment to ISO 3166. The dispute over .fk emerged during discussions of a related subject.

ICANN is currently reviewing how it divides the world into regions for the purposes of ensuring geographic diversity in, among other bodies, its governing board of directors.

A recent paper produced by the organisation said that many small island territories, including the Falklands, should be assigned to regions according to geographic location rather political heritage.

This would see the Falklands, which is situated about 300 miles off the coast of South America, relocated from the European region to the Latin American region.

Under these changes some US territories, such as American Samoa and Guam, would find themselves moving from North America to the Asia-Pacific region.

Recognising political sensitivities, ICANN has said that any ccTLD affected by the proposed changes would have the opportunity to opt-out and stay within their current region.

It seems likely that the Falklands will exercise this option.

The Falkland Islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas, is a self-governing territory, able to make its own laws but relying on the UK for defence and foreign affairs.

The dispute over the islands stretches back to 1833. After Argentina invaded in 1982, the resulting 74-day war claimed the lives of 255 British and 649 Argentinian servicemen. ®

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