.com Domain Names Worldwide Seizable by U.S. Authorities

… or, as Wired puts it: Uncle Sam: If It Ends in .Com, It’s .Seizable. But, let’s first back-up a bit….

What exactly are domain names? A domain name is an easy-to-remember mnemonic to the underlying Internet Protocol (IP) address, the true address of each website. The domain name bridgehouselaw.us, for example, points to the IP address The latter is much more difficult to remember, of course. Hence the use and usefulness of mnemonic domain names.

When you enter a domain name such as bridgehouselaw.us, the name is “resolved” by computers called Domain Name Resolvers, which are part of the Domain Name System (DNS), a type of switchboard or address book for the internet. The DNS tells the querying computer which IP address the domain name bridgehouselaw.us is currently pointing to.

Whoever controls the DNS controls a very valuable piece of real estate. The DNS gives you the power to redirect domain name queries to any IP address.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), established by the Clinton administration in 1998 and subject to loose oversight by the U.S. Department of Commerce, manages the DNS. It does so by enlisting the help of other organizations to manage the authoritative registries of different Top-level Domains (TLDs).

TLDs are the various endings domain names have. The most common is .com. Others that are of interest of here are .net, .cc, .tv and .name. These TLDs are all managed by the Reston, Virginia, based company Verisign, Inc.

TLDs are called top-level domains because they are at the top of the hierarchical structure of the internet address system. It is more or less like resolving a physical mailing address. Here is an example: if you were in Germany and were given a letter for BridgehouseLaw Charlotte, 212 South Tryon Street, Suite 325, Charlotte, NC 28281, USA, you would resolve the address by going from the general to the specific. You would first check the country the addressee is in, then the region in the country, the city, the street, the house and suite number and finally the name of the individual to whom the letter was addressed.

Because Verisign operates the so-called authoritative registry for the above-mentioned TLDs, it can change the IP address underlying any domain name that uses one of the TLDs under its control. And that is how U.S. authorities can -and do- seize any .com address.

While you and I can register a .com domain with a domain name registrar that might be located anywhere in the world, the domain name registrar must pass on the information to Verisign and ask for the new domain name to be listed in its authoritative registry for .com domain names. Remember, the registry needs to be updated because there needs to be one authoritative source telling everybody what IP address a domain name is pointing to.

Verisign is a U.S. company. As such, it is required to comply with U.S. court orders. If a U.S. court finds a foreign-based website to be distributing material illegal under U.S. law, such as pirated blockbusters, it can issue a court order to seize the domain.

That is what happened to bodog.com, a sports-betting website that had registered its domain with a company in Canada. bodog.com now points to a site telling you that the domain name has been seized by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations, Office of the Special Agent in Charge, Baltimore, MD, in accordance with a warrant obtained by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

Consequently, if a foreign website is deemed illegal in the U.S., the domain can be seized even if the website’s activity is legal in its home country. The problem with a seizure effected by redirecting the domain name to a different IP address, as in the case of bodog.com, is that the website becomes unavailable for users worldwide and not just in the U.S., where it was found to be illegal.

, a domain name registrar and hosting service, writes “the ramifications of this are no less than chilling and every single organization branded or operating under .com, .net, .org, .biz etc needs to ask themselves about their vulnerability to the whims of US federal and state lawmakers.”

As a result, there are demands worldwide for the DNS to be placed under the auspices of an international organization such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations. The Geneva-based ITU allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits and promotes the development of technical standards in the information and communication technologies.

In 2005, a U.N. working group concluded that “no single Government should have a pre-eminent role in relation to international internet governance.”

But, as Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor, said in 2005, “as long as the root [the master-file of permitted TLDs] is controlled by the United States, there’s this psychological feeling that the United States owns the internet.”

Current developments seem to have proven Professor Wu’s point.

(c) Picture: freedigitalphotos.net

Best regards
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs