Why ICANN won’t revoke Russian Internet domains

Ukraine’s request to cut off Russia from key areas of the Internet has been rejected by the nonprofit organization that oversees the Internet Domain Name System (DNS). CEO Göran Marby of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said the group must “maintain neutrality and act in support of the global internet”.

“Our mission does not extend to taking punitive measures, imposing sanctions or restricting access to parts of the internet – regardless of the provocations,” Marby wrote in his response to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov. “ICANN applies its policies consistently and in accordance with documented processes. Making unilateral changes would erode confidence in the multi-stakeholder model and policies designed to support the global interoperability of the Internet.”

Ukraine on Monday asked ICANN to revoke Russian top-level domains such as .ru, .рф and .su; to “contribute to the revocation of SSL certificates” from those domains; and to shut down DNS root servers in Russia. Fedorov argued that the requested “measures will help users search for reliable information in alternative domain zones, thus preventing propaganda and disinformation”.

ICANN is “built to make the internet work”

Experts warned that granting Ukraine’s request would harm Russian citizens, have little impact on the Russian government and military, and fail to achieve the goal of countering propaganda. Marby agreed with that assessment, telling Fedorov in his response:

As you said in your letter, your desire is to help users find reliable information in alternative domain zones and avoid propaganda and misinformation. It is only through broad and unfettered access to the Internet that citizens can obtain reliable information and diverse points of view. Regardless of the source, ICANN has no control over Internet access or content.

While “ICANN and its global community are aware of and concerned about the horrific toll being taken on your country,” ICANN itself has “no authority to impose sanctions,” Marby wrote. “Essentially, ICANN was built to make sure the Internet works, not to use its coordinating role to prevent it from working.”

“Devastating” effect on the global system

Regarding the request to revoke top-level domains, Marby wrote that “the globally agreed-upon policy does not state that ICANN can take unilateral action to disconnect these domains at your request. You can understand why such a system cannot work.” based on requests from one territory or country regarding internal operations within another territory or country. Such a change in the process would have devastating and permanent consequences for the trust and usability of this global system.”

Marby’s response to the request to shut down DNS root servers in Russia was brief, saying that the “root server system is composed of many geographically dispersed nodes maintained by independent operators.” Regarding Ukraine’s other request, Marby wrote that ICANN “does not have the ability to revoke the specific SSL certificates for the domains you mentioned. These certificates are produced by third-party operators and ICANN is not involved in their issuance. “

Marby’s refusal of Ukraine’s request referred to the decentralized nature of the Internet. “No actor has the ability to control it or shut it down. ICANN’s primary role, through the functions of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is to ensure the consistent and unique assignment of Internet IDs in accordance with global policy,” Marby wrote.

“This policy was developed by a multi-stakeholder community composed of technical experts, businesses, academics, civil society, governments and other stakeholders who worked together to resolve policy and technical challenges through consensus,” Marby continued. “It’s a model that has allowed the Internet to thrive in recent decades, and this broad and inclusive approach to decision-making advances the global public interest and makes the Internet resilient to unilateral decision-making.”

While ICANN doesn’t break DNS links, that doesn’t mean Russians have unrestricted access to the Internet. Russia is reportedly blocking Twitter, Facebook, several news sites and major app stores, as we wrote on Friday. Separately, US-based internet backbone operator Cogent Communications is reportedly shutting down service in Russia in a move that could cause some outages and poor network performance.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.

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