The strange stories behind country-code top-level domains

James Bridle writes, "A couple of months ago I released a browser extension – Citizen Ex – which tracks your browsing (entirely privately) in order to show you your "Algorithmic Citizenship" – where your browsing actually goes, and what this means for your rights."

"I've just completed a series of accompanying essays which dive into six top-level country domains (e.g. .sy, .ly, .cymru) to tell the stories behind their creation, from the collapse of Yugoslavia, to the depopulation of Diego Garcia."

The story of .ly, the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for Libya, begins with a deception. In April 1997, someone called Kalil Elwiheshi applied to the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA) to take responsibility for the domain. At that time, the IANA was a small team run out of the University of Southern California by Jon Postel, which based its decisions on ISO country codes issued by the UN – and the goodwill of the internet community (see The Story of .scot for more on the history of IANA). But Elwiheshi was not acting in good faith, and supplied an address in Libya as the administrative contact for .ly, despite residing in the UK. For several years, Elwiheshi's and another British company called Magic Moments sold, and kept the profits for, Libyan domains.

It wasn't until 2004 that the situation came to a head. On the morning of April 7th, some 12,500 .ly domains – each costing their owners $500 to register – disappeared from the Internet. Lydomains had stopped serving up addresses, and all of the domains became inaccessible. It turned out that Magic Moments had disappeared some time before, following a 2002 complaint to ICANN, which is supposed to resolve domain name disputes. A few days later, with some but not all of the domains back online, an email from a Dr Hosni Tayeb was sent to domain holders, claiming to be the "caretaker" of the Libyan ccTLD. Tayeb had been presenting himself at internet meetings for several years, accompanied by documents which he claimed were an agreement with the Libyan government – but all in Arabic. The email, in poor English, told everyone not to worry: "Thank you very much for your concern about .ly cc TLD. People do care around!" Libyan Spider, a prominent Libyan hosting provider, posted a plaintive call: "Who runs .ly?" Nobody seemed to know.

In October, ICANN finally stepped in, and redelegated the .ly namespace directly to the Libyan government, in the form of the General Post and Telecommunication Company (GPTC), which administers all the country's telecommunications services. The same year, international sanctions on Libya and the government of President Muammar Gaddafi were lifted. But the story of .ly has remained fraught ever since.

Domain Stories | Citizen Ex