The Ukrainian government’s request to ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) last week to revoke Russian top-level domains has been rejected by ICANN on technical and policy grounds. To this end, a total of 36 experts from the European Parliament, ICANN, Packet Clearing House, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Institute for Digital Democracy and other institutions signed and published an open letter, expressing their opposition to the Ukrainian government’s request and calling for precise and more effective measures. The sanctions will further weaken Russia’s military behavior and online propaganda.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov made a public request to ICANN on February 28 asking ICANN to permanently or temporarily revoke Russian top-level domains such as “.ru”, “.рф”, and “.su”, including those associated with these domains SSL certificate, disable DNS servers located in Russia, and revoke Russia’s right to use IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. ICANN’s Ukraine representative, Andrii Nabok, said these measures would be one of the ways to effectively sanction Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while helping Internet users to obtain accurate and reliable information and prevent the spread of false information. However, ICANN rejected the Ukrainian government on technical and policy grounds because ICANN is tasked with verifying applications for TLDs from various countries, and has not unilaterally cancelled the powers of TLDs and SSL certificates.
An open letter issued by 36 experts from the European Parliament, ICANN, Packet Clearing House, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Institute for Digital Democracy and other institutions, which also responded to the request of the Ukrainian government, lays out 7 principles:
Internet sanctions that cut off the people of the country from the Internet are disproportionate and inappropriate because they prevent people from accessing information that no longer supports military action and allow them to receive only the information that the country’s government chooses for them .
The effectiveness of cyber sanctions should be assessed against their goals, and ineffective sanctions waste energy and willpower, and neither unite nor convey conviction.
Cyber sanctions must be precise and the possibility of unintended consequences or collateral damage should be minimized. Disproportionate or excessive sanctions may also fundamentally turn away from the people.
Military and propaganda agencies and their information infrastructure can be targeted for sanctions.
The Internet is based on its transnational nature and multi-stakeholder governance structure, and it is not easy to implement cyber sanctions in state conflicts.
It is inappropriate and counterproductive for governments to attempt to operate cyber governance mechanisms and impose cyber sanctions.
Nonetheless, there are some appropriate, effective, and concrete measures that the Internet governance community can take into consideration in the Internet sanctions review process.
In conclusion, sanctions that cut off a country’s connection to the Internet are not proportional. Cyber sanctions must be precise, their effectiveness should be assessed, and cyber sanctions can target military and propaganda agencies.
In addition, these experts recommend blacklisting specific websites, the current practice for blocking spam and malicious attacks, empowering individual networks to decide whether to deny access to specific IP addresses. They believe it also does not hinder the day-to-day operations of local schools, hospitals and other areas of the general public.
The experts also called for the creation of a volunteer committee that could act swiftly in light of global events to carefully review such digital sanctions.