The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said on Wednesday that it filed its argument in response to lawsuits by victims of acts of terrorism who were seeking to seize the web domains of Iran, Syria and North Korea to collect on civil damage judgments — potentially shutting down internet access in those countries.
The response was to petitions filed by victims of terrorism and family members of those injured or killed in attacks believed to be sponsored by the countries, and are seeking to seize the "country code top level domains" such as .ir for Iran, .sy for Syria and .kp for North Korea.
ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey said in a statement that these domains were not assets which could be seized, but "part of a single, global interoperable internet which ICANN serves to help maintain".
He said these domains "are not property, and are not 'owned' or 'possessed' by anyone including ICANN, and therefore cannot be seized in a lawsuit".
ICANN filed its response on Tuesday in a federal court after being served with orders to recover assets from those three countries from plaintiffs who won lawsuits against Iran, Syria and North Korea.
If the recovery efforts succeed, they could allow the victims to take over the domains and potentially shut down all internet access in the three countries.
Last month, lawyers for one group of plaintiffs - including American citizens or families of those killed or injured in attacks on Israel by Hamas, believed to be sponsored by Tehran — said they had won a judgment against Iran and were asking for the domains.
It was the first time terrorism victims had moved to seize the domain names, IPs and internet licences of terrorism-sponsoring states such as Iran, lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said at the time.
But ICANN's court filings said seizing the domains was not the correct legal remedy.
ICANN argued that even if the domains were considered property and could be handed over, a ruling for the plaintiffs "would destroy whatever value may exist" in the domains and "would wipe out the hundreds of thousands of second-level domain names registered therein by various individuals, businesses and charitable organisations, and could jeopardise the single, global, interoperable structure the internet".
Court papers filed on June 24 in a Washington court asked for ICANN to hand over assets in cases against Iran and Syria after the countries refused to pay damages in lawsuits.