A United States court on Tuesday effectively awarded a group of American and Israeli victims of Iranian terror the rights to the .ir domain, the suffix used to identify Iranian websites, along with all of Iran’s IP addresses.
As a result, said the group’s attorney, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Shurat Hadin Law Center, Iran could find itself kicked off the Internet by ICANN, a Los Angeles-based organization that manages the web.
The United State District Court decided that the .ir domain name, along with Iran’s IP addresses — without which Iranian websites cannot be included in the World Wide Web — were assets that could be seized to satisfy judgments against the Islamic state of more than a billion dollars, owed by Iran to Israeli and US victims of terror perpetrated by the Hamas and Hezbollah organizations, among others.
As a result, Shurat Hadin, representing those victims, could collect the fees Iran pays to keep its Internet going — or force an auction of Iran’s Internet assets to satisfy the judgment.
The court decision comes as part of Shurat Hadin’s efforts to collect judgments against Iran awarded over the past 10 years by various US courts. Darshan-Leitner’s team has successfully proved in American courts that Iran funded terror groups that killed and injured Israeli and US citizens — and that, as the responsible party, it was obligated to compensate victims and their families for losses.
Faced with Iranian refusal to provide such compensation, Darshan-Leitner has been pursuing these judgments in the courts. “We’ve been able to seize numerous Iranian assets to satisfy these judgments,” Darshan-Leitner told The Times of Israel. “Last year, for example, we were awarded a building on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and we have a case pending for seizure of an Iranian government-owned art collection at the University of Chicago.”
But Tuesday’s decision could turn out to have the most impact. Internet domain names are licensed to countries around the world by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an agency related to the US Department of Commerce which administers the World Wide Web. Each country gets its own suffix, enabling web users to identify the location of a site – for example, Israeli sites get the suffix .il — and allowing local administrators in each country to more easily manage the Internet in their own country.
Like other countries, Iran pays fees to ICANN to license its Internet assets. The US District Court ruled that those fees, along with the assets themselves, could be used to satisfy the Iranian debt to the terror victims plaintiffs. Included in the judgment are all the “top-level domain” (TLD) names provided by ICANN to Iran, including the .IR TLD, the Persian-language ایران TLD, and all Internet Protocol (IP) addresses being utilized by the Iranian government and its agencies.
The award is based on an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that US courts have repeatedly ruled does not apply to Iran.
The only question is, said Darshan-Leitner, how ICANN plans to satisfy the judgment. “They have ten days to respond, and unless the court changes its mind, they will have to forward us fees Iran is supposed to pay to renew its licenses, with the renewal done annually. They may decide to do that, in which case that money will go towards satisfying the judgment.”
But there are other possibilities, Darshan-Leitner said. “ICANN may decide that it just isn’t worth their while to do business with Iran anymore, because all the money coming in will go to the terror victims.” In that case, Darshan-Leitner said, ICANN could “pull the plug” on Iran’s Internet, suspending use of the .ir domain and disconnecting Iranian IP addresses from the web.
Even if ICANN decided not to do that, Shurat Hadin could demand an auction of the Iranian Internet assets, arguing that it could realize more compensation money that way – meaning that Iran would no longer be in control of its own websites.
“The payments are just one aspect of the judgment,” Darshan-Leitner said. “It’s the assets themselves that we were awarded. This is the first time that terror victims have moved to seize the domain names, IPs and Internet licenses of terror-sponsoring states like Iran in an attempt to satisfy their court judgments. 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. We remain committed to helping these American families satisfy their judgments.”