Why ICANN Won’t Revoke Russian Internet Domains

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Ukraine’s request for Russia’s disconnection from major parts of the Internet has been rejected by the non-profit group that oversees the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) CEO Göran Marby said the group must “maintain neutrality and act in support of the global Internet.”

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“Our mission does not extend to taking punitive measures, imposing sanctions or restricting access to segments of the Internet – regardless of provocation,” Marby wrote in his response to Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Mikhail Fedorov. “ICANN applies its policies consistently and according to documented processes. Making unilateral changes would undermine the credibility of the multilateral model and the policies designed to support global Internet interoperability.”

Ukraine on Monday asked ICANN revoke Russian top-level domains such as .ru, .rf and .su; “facilitate the revocation of SSL certificates” of these domains; and disable root DNS servers in Russia. Fedorov argued that the requested “measures will help users search for reliable information in alternative domain zones, preventing propaganda and misinformation.”

ICANN was “built to make the Internet work”
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Experts have warned that satisfying Ukraine’s request would harm Russian civilians, have little effect on the Russian government and military, and would fail to achieve the goal of countering propaganda. Marby agreed with this assessment, telling Fedorov in his reply:

As you said in your letter, your desire is to help users find reliable information in alternative domain zones and prevent propaganda and misinformation. Only through broad and unhindered access to the Internet can citizens receive reliable information and a variety of points of view. Regardless of the source, ICANN does not control Internet access or content.

While “ICANN and its global community are aware of and concerned about the terrible loss your country is suffering,” ICANN itself “does not have the power to impose sanctions,” Marby wrote. “Basically, ICANN was created to make the Internet work, not to have its stewardship role prevent it from working.”

“Destructive” effect on the global system

Regarding the TLD revocation request, Marby wrote that “Globally agreed policies do not provide for ICANN to take unilateral action to take these domains off at your request. You can understand why such a system cannot work based on requests from one territory or country regarding domestic operations in another territory or country. Such a change in process would have devastating and irreversible consequences for the credibility and usefulness of this global system.”

Marby’s response to a request to shut down DNS root servers in Russia was succinct: “the root server system consists of many geographically dispersed nodes maintained by independent operators.” Regarding another request from Ukraine, Marby wrote that ICANN “does not have the ability to revoke certain SSL certificates for the domains you mentioned. These certificates are produced by third parties and ICANN is not involved in issuing them.”

Marby’s refusal of Ukraine’s request cited the decentralized nature of the internet. “No member has the ability to control or disable it. ICANN’s primary role, through the functions of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is to ensure consistent and unique assignment of Internet identifiers in accordance with global policies,” Marby wrote.

“These policies have been developed by a multi-stakeholder community that includes technical experts, businesses, scientists, civil society, governments and other stakeholders who have worked together to resolve policy and technical issues through consensus,” Marby continued. “This is the model that has allowed the Internet to flourish for decades, and this broad and inclusive approach to decision making promotes the global public interest and makes the Internet resilient to unilateral decision making.”

Although ICANN will not break DNS links, this does not mean that Russians have unrestricted access to the Internet. It is reported that Russia blocking twitter, facebookvarious news sites and major app stores as we wrote on Friday. Separately, there is an American backbone Internet operator Cogent Communications. reportedly termination of service in Russia, which may lead to outages and reduced network performance.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technique.

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