March 05, 2008

 ICANN do anything

Steve Marshall is a British travel agent. He lives in Spain, and he sells trips to Europeans who want to go to sunny places, including Cuba. In October, about 80 of his Web sites stopped working because of the U.S. government.
Full story by Adam Liptak in the NYT.

Mr Marshall bought his domain names from a US-based registrar, eNom. This was the only US connection of his operation - the websites are hosted in the Bahamas. An obscure agency of the US Treasury Department, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), phoned eNom instructions to remove the registration of Mr. Marshall's websites - which it spinelessly did, without a court order or even a letter. Marshall has now acquired new names from a European registrar.

The argumentation of OFAC is this:

It said Marshall's company had helped Americans evade restrictions on travel to Cuba and was "a generator of resources that the Cuban regime uses to oppress its people."

Marshall denies the first point, convincingly: "They can't go anyway". The second ground is so broad as to be limitless. It allows the US government to interfere with my buying Cuban rum in a Spanish supermarket.

Unlike other targets of Bush's imperial lawlessness, Marshall could fight back. The rest of the world has accepted the continuance of a privileged American position in the running of the Internet's domain naming system simply because it has worked satisfactorily and reasonably fairly, without political interference. But it isn't a technical necessity. If the US abuses its position to push a partisan agenda extralegally, the rest of the world will just go its own way.

Besides, domain registration is not bound by location. You could run a business from a ship off Antarctica. Why shouldn't the industry migrate to friendlier climes? The Treasury Department's actions may cost quite a few American jobs, and no Cuban ones.

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