A group of victims of terrorism from Israel and the United States have moved to attach and seize the internet licenses, contractual rights and domain names being provided by the United States to the extremist regime in Tehran.
If successful, the case could set a precedent and mean countries such as North Korea and Syria could lose control of their ccTLDs. The announcement came this week from families who have won American federal court judgments that amount to more than a billion dollars against the Iranian government seek to own all the TLDs provided by the US to Iran including the .ir TLD, the ایران TLD and all Internet Protocol (IP) addresses being utilised by the Iranian government and its agencies. The court papers have been served on ICANN.
The families are represented in this unprecedented civil action by attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Tel-Aviv, Israel and Robert Tolchin of New York.
“This is the first time that terror victims have moved to seize the domain names, IPs and internet licenses of terrorism sponsoring states like Iran and are attempting to satisfy their court judgments,” Darshan-Leitner said in a statement. “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.”
In cases brought in the US by the terror victim plaintiff/judgment holders against Iran, the districts courts have repeatedly ruled that the suicide bombing and shooting attacks perpetrated by the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist organisations in Israel were funded by the Islamic regime through MOIS. However, although the families have received compensatory and punitive damage judgments against the defendants, Iran has refused to satisfy the court awards. Iran has been designated by the Department of State as an outlaw nation that provides material support and resources to terrorist groups worldwide since 1996.
Darshan-Leitner has successfully seized $120 million in Iranian assets from sources like real estate, historic artefacts and bank accounts for victims, according to a report in the New York Post. The strategy was called “very creative and very aggressive” by Ned Rosenthal, an intellectual property lawyer who is not involved in the case the report continued.
The article went on to say Rosenthal and his colleague Beth Goldman were sceptical the suit would ultimately prevail.
“I don’t know that ICANN even holds that kind of money or assets to pay out,” Goldman told the New York Post, explaining that the power to control IP addresses and domain names often belongs to third party registries based in each country.
“It’s unclear what ICANN can do or what their authority is,” she added.
Under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (28 U.S.C. § 1610(g)), legislated to assist terror victims to collect judgments against foreign states abrogates Iran’s sovereign immunity for claims arising from acts of terrorism and subjects to attachment “the property of a foreign state… and the property of an agency or instrumentality of such a state, including property that is a separate juridical entity or is an interest held directly or indirectly in a separate juridical entity.”
According to Baruch Ben-Haim whose son Shlomo was severely injured in a 1995 terrorist bombing of an Israeli bus: “It’s not right that the US government would provide these licenses to Iran while it is refusing to pay off the judgments handed down against it for funding global terrorism. The federal court awards given to our families must be satisfied.”
“For years the Iranian government has refused to pay its judgments, thumbing its nose at these terror victims and the American court system,” said Darshan-Leitner. “Our clients continue to suffer from the suicide bombing that Iran financed in Jerusalem nearly seventeen years ago. It is not our intention to shut down Iran’s internet usage, but we want what is rightfully due. If by seizing any funds earned from these licenses and contractual rights we can satisfy the judgments, we will have served our clients.”