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June 25, 2014 6:15 pm

Israeli Legal Team Threatens to Seize Iranian Internet Domain ‘.ir’ on Behalf of Terror Victims

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini denied the Holocaust on Twitter, on March 21, 2014.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini denied the Holocaust on Twitter, on March 21, 2014.

Iran’s top-level internet domain ‘.ir’ came under threat in a U.S. court of law on Wednesday, when Israeli lawyers asked a New York judge to grant some of the billions owed to families of victims of terror acts sponsored by the Islamic Republic from money it earns registering websites in Iran.

The novel case asks the court to instruct ICANN, the national domain registry that is part of the U.S. Commerce Department, to support U.S. laws that call for Iran to forfeit any potential U.S. asset to pay victims, laying claim to its ‘.ir’ and ‘یران’ top-level domains and all Internet Protocol addresses being utilized by the Iranian government and its agencies.

While $12 billion in frozen U.S. bank accounts was released as a carrot for starting talks to contain Iran’s nuclear program, other assets, such as a 36-story tower on 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue in New York worth some $500 million, are being attached to pay victims of Iranian-financed terror. The settlement for the New York real estate includes the families and estates of victims of Iranian-linked terrorist attacks since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, including the 1983 Marine Barracks bombings in Beirut, the 1996 Khobar Tower attacks in Saudi Arabia, and terror attacks in Israel.

In 1996, Iran was designated by the U.S. Department of State as an outlaw nation that provides material support and resources to terrorist groups worldwide. Under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act  (28 U.S.C. § 1610(g)), Iran’s sovereign immunity was abrogated when it lost the cases brought by victims and property it owns or controls can be attached and sold to repay the multi-billion claims awarded to victims.

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Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of Shurat HaDin Israeli Law Center, in Tel-Aviv, and Robert Tolchin, in New York, who brought the case against ICANN, also have a similar suit pending to attach Persian art on display at the Oriental Museum at the University of Chicago.

“For years the Iranian government has refused to pay its judgments, thumbing its nose at these terror victims and the American court system,” Darshan-Leitner said.

“Our clients continue to suffer from the suicide bombing that Iran financed in Jerusalem nearly seventeen years ago,” she said. “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.”

Darshan-Leitner told The Algemeiner on Wednesday, “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. 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.”

But it’s ironic that their legal strategy is pursuing Iran via the internet which it notoriously restricts, with 5 million Internet sites blocked for being perceived as immoral and anti-social in a report from 2008. Before subscribers can even access internet, they must promise in writing not to access all “non-Islamic” sites, according to the OpenNet Initiative.

The Iranian government used pirated software called SmartFilter, stolen from U.S. company Secure Computing, to block access to reformist political sites, news media, information about gays and lesbians, pornography, sites that provide tools to help users cloak their Internet identity, as well as anything loosely defined as ‘immoral.’

In 2011, Iran announced it would launch a “halal internet,” based on what’s used to censor the web in North Korea, Cuba and Myanmar.

But when the Iranian government uses the internet, it’s often to spread propaganda against its enemies, especially Jews and Israel, via semi-official news agencies and television platforms, or on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, which it prohibits for the people of Iran.

Darshan-Leitner said no value has yet been ascribed as to how much the ‘.ir’ domain might be worth, but a valuation might become easier as market giant, though loss-making, GoDaddy, which controls 20 percent of global domains with 57 million registered, said it was coming to the stock market this month. Meanwhile, Google this week said it would enter the domain business.

While detailed information on how many domains have been issued ending in ‘.ir’ was unavailable, nTLDStats data on the sector showed that while the case could be a great moral and precedent-creating victory, it’s unlikely to make a big dent in the billions of dollars Iran owes terror victims.

In the first half of 2014, 1.3 million domains were registered by ICANN across 315 top-level addresses, but not one proclaimed the Islamic Republic’s ‘.ir’.

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