Neo-Nazi Site Hunts for New Web Home After Russia Ban

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By Alexis Kramer

A Russian internet domain name registrar Aug. 17 suspended the Daily Stormer website’s registration, leaving the neo-Nazi site to search for another way to stay online.

The site had moved to a domain with the .ru Russian country code extension after domain registrars GoDaddy Operating Co. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google pulled their web domain services in the wake of a white supremacist rally Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Va.

It’s unclear whether the Daily Stormer will be forced to keep moving from one domain to the next in search of a web hosting service that will allow it to stay. Registrars and web hosting services are private companies. They aren’t required to provide services to any particular person or entity and have wide latitude to police websites.

Registrars for top-level domains such as .com and .net are accredited by the Internet Corporation for the Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit that manages the domain name system.

“I can’t think of any ICANN-accredited registrar that would want to be associated with this type of content,” Philip Corwin, the founder of Virtualaw LLC in Washington and a participant in ICANN meetings, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 17. But it would still be difficult to stop a group like the Daily Stormer from finding a web hosting company somewhere in the world that will put it on its server, he said.

Andrew Anglin, the contact for dailystormer.com in a public database of domain name registrants, told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 17 email that he is seeking other registrars to host the site and is also “sorting out our darkweb site.”

Registrar Search

Registrars are entities that sell domain names to the public. Registrars of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .com and .xyz have several obligations under their agreements with ICANN. Registrars are required to, among other things, take “reasonable and prompt steps to investigate and respond appropriately to any reports of abuse.”

“Abuse” isn’t defined in the agreement, but one could reasonably interpret the term to include a site like the Daily Stormer, Gregory Shatan, a domain name attorney and partner at Bortstein Legal Group in New York, told Bloomberg BNA. If a registrar received complaints about a website that incites hate speech, its agreement with ICANN could come into play, he said.

Anglin told Bloomberg BNA via email that “some registrar has to host us or it becomes an ICANN issue. I think it already is an ICANN issue, but we’ll see.”

Shatan agreed with Corwin that websites such as the Daily Stormer would have difficulty finding a registrar of gTLDs to agree to host it. But it’s possible there are some country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) that would offer a home to a website like the Daily Stormer, he said. Managers of ccTLDs, domains such as .ru for Russia and .fr for France that have been established for countries and territories, don’t contract with ICANN. Some ccTLDs are privately held and aren’t used to represent a country’s domain space, Shatan said.

Roscomnadzor, the Russian telecom regulator, Aug. 17 ordered Russian registrar Regional Network Information Center (RU-CENTER) to suspend the Daily Stormer’s .ru domain. “Daily Stormer promotes neo-Nazi ideology, as well as racial, national and social hatred,” Alexander Zharov, head of Roscomnadzor, said in a statement.

Registrar Obligations

Corwin said registrars don’t generally monitor the content of the domains they host, but usually learn about allegedly inciteful content from the public, law enforcement, or a court order. Registrars that receive a court order must take down the content at issue, he said.

Registrars are otherwise generally not required to monitor or remove content.

Registrars provide internet infrastructure services, Michele Neylon, CEO of Blacknight Internet Solutions Ltd., an ICANN-accredited registrar in Carlow, Ireland, told Bloomberg BNA. “We’re not interested in being the content police.”

But, Neylon said, “nothing is stopping a registrar from taking down a domain if a client oversteps the line and breaches its terms of service.” Registrars have no obligation to provide services to anybody, Neylon said.

Toronto, Canada-based registrar Tucows Ltd. will generally not remove domains from the internet without a court order, Tucows policy director Graeme Bunton told Bloomberg BNA. “We believe in due process. That’s a much better system than deciding arbitrarily what should or should not be on the internet.”

—With assistance from Sergei Blagov

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Kramer in Washington at aKramer@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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