A drastic request from Ukraine calling for major Russian internet domains to be revoked has been rejected by ICANN, the California-based nonprofit that helps oversee the internet.
On Wednesday, ICANN President Göran Marby told the Ukrainian government his organization had no authority to enact such a request. “Our mission does not extend to taking punitive actions, issuing sanctions, or restricting access against segments of the internet —regardless of the provocations,” he wrote in a letter to Ukraine Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov.
On Monday, Fedorov made the extraordinary request, which would’ve involved ICANN revoking domains issued to the Russian government, including .ru and .su. In addition, he urged ICANN to shut down Russia’s root DNS servers in the country, which would’ve disrupted local Russian internet users from visiting sites across the web.
Fedorov called for the drastic action to help stop Russia from spreading content justifying the country’s invasion of Ukraine. ”All of these measures will help users seek for reliable information in alternative domain zones, preventing propaganda and disinformation,” he wrote to ICANN.
But ICANN’s president said his organization’s goal is to remain neutral and apolitical. “We have no sanction-levying authority,” Marby wrote. “Essentially, ICANN has been built to ensure that the Internet works, not for its coordination role to be used to stop it from working.”
He added that ICANN has no power to shut down the root DNS servers in Russia because they’re maintained by independent operators. ICANN policies were also never designed to let the nonprofit act unilaterally when it comes to interfering with the internet operations of another country. “Such a change in the process would have devastating and permanent effects on the trust and utility of this global system,” Marby added.
Fedorov has yet to respond to the denial. But for days now, he’s been urging all tech companies, including gaming developers, to shun the Russian market in the hopes it’ll pressure the Kremlin to call off the invasion.
In the meantime, critics sympathetic to Ukraine’s cause have also said the country’s request to disrupt Russia’s internet went too far. “In the short-term, this is a bad plan because it would cut the Russian man-on-the-street off from international news and perspectives, leaving them with only what the Russian government chooses to tell them,” wrote Bill Woodcock, executive director of the nonprofit Packet Clearing House, which helps secure critical infrastructure.
“In the long-term, this would set the precedent that small industry associations in Los Angeles and Amsterdam would be playing arbiter in international conflicts,” he added.
Former ICANN President Paul Twomey agreed: “Keeping the protocol layer operating in Russia is the best way to ensure that sites carrying diverse views to Russian audiences are effective.”