Kosovo Deserves Digital Independence 

When I did my LLM in Italy, I got sat at the “Muslim Table” during a dinner. They plunked down three bottles of wine. I said “well, as long as you guys don’t mind me drinking here, I’ll be happy to be at the Muslim table.”

The guy next to me says "I can not allow an American to drink alone. May Allah forgive me.” Then we drank all the wine. Then we realized that we actually look a lot alike. Like creepily so. A long friendship was born.

He happened to be from Kosovo.

Well, anyhow, I was emailing with him, and noticed that his government email address ended in .com. I asked “what the hell is up with that?” He explained that ICANN wouldn’t give Kosovo its own ccTLD because they don't recognize it as a “real country.”

That grinds my gears.

Kosovo gained political independence, but it remains a digital vassal of its former master, Serbia. Despite Kosovo’s political independence, won through armed conflict and international diplomatic recognition, ICANN denies the new country its online independence by refusing to grant it control of its own top level domain.  ICANN’s refusal to do so does not seem to have any degree of intellectual honesty, but seems more rooted in political expediency and a desire to avoid offending Serbia (and thus by extension, Russia).  After a full exhaustive study of the legal and political issues, I published Kosovo’s Digital Independence: Time for Kosovo’s CCTLD.

In the article, I discuss the fact that this is not just a matter of national pride – although national pride should be a sufficient justification.  The real justification is that Kosovo deserves full digital independence.  A ccTLD is not merely a symbolic indicator of independence, however. Control over ccTLDs allows a nation to control an essential part of their information and technological infrastructure that can affect telecommunications, power grids, banking, and electronic surveillance. National governments recognize ccTLDs as a component of their sovereignty and a vital national interest.

Kosovo broke most other technological ties with Serbia. For example, Kosovo and Serbia agreed that Austria could apply on behalf of Kosovo for an international country calling code as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement.  Up until 1999, Kosovo was covered by the Serbian cell phone network and used the +63 dialing code.   Without its own dialing code but with a need to distance itself from Serbian control, Kosovo could use the old Yugoslavian +381 code or could “borrow” a code from another country.   In 1999, Kosovo began using Monaco’s +377 code.   The Kosovo government essentially regards +63 as illegal since 2008 and kicked out most of the Serbian cell network.

As for its ccTLD designation, Kosovo cannot get out from under Serbia’s thumb so easily.  Kosovo continues to remain under Serbia’s ccTLD, even if as a practical matter Kosovo refuses to use it. Kosovo government websites are all on other TLDs, usually “.com” “.net” or “.org.”  While this is superior to using a hostile foreign government’s ccTLD, it places these TLDs at least partially under the laws of the United States, as they are privately administered by Verisign52 and Public Interest Registry.   Legally, if someone wanted to take action against these domains, they could do so in the Eastern District of Virginia, even though American courts would normally have no place meddling in the affairs of any other independent nation.

Ultimately, this renders Kosovo as an online anomaly. It violently broke free from Serbia, and no reasonable observer can likely see it ever returning to Serbian rule.  Since its official ccTLD remains .rs (Serbia) its online presence is still under the Serb National Internet Domain Registry.  To evade the censorship and cybersecurity issues that would arise from using “.rs,” Kosovo places its online flag in Virginia. Given the revelations of what the U.S. government and U.S. corporations consider to be fair game when it comes to surveillance and the commercial and governmental use of personal information, one might imagine that this is an inappropriate state of affairs for a self-respecting independent country.

While ICANN refuses to give Kosovo a TLD, it lacks any justifiable reason.  Is it controversial?  Of course it is.  But is it any more controversial than granting the Palestinian State its own TLD?  The Soviet Union fell decades ago, but Lenin's old empire remains active online under .su.  East Timor, before and after independence, had its own “.tp” and then “.tl.”  And, most analogously, Taiwan is at .tw, despite being recognized by fewer nations than Kosovo and both it and China continuing to maintain that it is not actually “independent.”  Finally, even insignificant specks of land like Saint Helena Island and Pitcairn Island have complete digital independence, while ICANN refuses to give it to Kosovo.

As Kosovo’s recognition as an independent state grows, Kosovo still has to struggle to fully escape Serbia’s orbit. The Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations provides that as a matter of international law, “it is a bedrock principle that every state ‘has the right freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic and cultural systems.’”  The international and technological communities have the ability to help Kosovo along this path to full digital independence—or to at least get out of the way. Kosovo’s full and complete independence requires that it have its own country code top-level domain.

ICANN could easily remedy the situation by granting a ccTLD to Kosovo as it has done for many countries (and for a number of less- than countries) in the past. ICANN relies on its general practice of using ISO 3166-1 country codes to refute any discussion of granting Kosovo its own ccTLD, although it has also made clear that this practice is not its official standard.  Support from 111 of the UN members and the United States’ backing of Kosovo make it inexplicable that Kosovo remains without its own ccTLD.  Kosovo gained its territorial independence through armed struggle and international recognition. Objections to its independence lack intellectually honest justification, and its digital independence should not be held hostage by old Balkan rivalries. The time has come for Kosovo to be given a full seat at the Internet, international, and independence tables.

The full study of this issue can be found at Kosovo's Digital Independence: Time for Kosovo's CCTLD, Wisconsin Int’l Law Journal, http://ssrn.com/abstract=2754182 I hope you'll enjoy reading it.

Last 5 posts by Randazza

Comments

  1. John Thacker says

    Taiwan is recognized as a country by fewer nations than Kosovo, but more countries accept the ROC passport as an entry document than the Kosovan passport. (A lot of rich countries will let Taiwanese passport holders in visa free even while not recognizing the country, but require visas from the PRC.)

    Still, it's a fine analogy.

  2. Peter says

    @Harry Johnston

    ISO 3166-1 gets its country list from the UN publication "Country Names," which the IANA claims lists any country that's a member of the UN, a party to the Statute of the International Court of Justice, or a member of a UN specialized agency. I couldn't find any UN source backing that up, but it's clearly not true anyways since Kosovo has been a member of the IMF (a UN specialized agency) since 2009 and is still not on the list as of 2011. The UN office of legal affairs suggests that anyone mentioning Kosovo should specify "'All references to Kosovo in this [document/publication/report/etc.] should be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999)'," which to me seems to suggest the UN still thinks the 2008 declaration of independence was illegal because it wasn't done through the negotiations set up by UNSCR 1244 even though the advisory opinion that the General Assembly requested from the ICJ says otherwise.

    Basically I have no idea. Let me know if you find out.

  3. Michael says

    You should consider posting this on a site where I don't have to manually refresh to see new posts. Though advocating for technical issues here does have a high amusement value.

  4. Gabriel says

    Hold on. You really sit on the front page of a site to see new posts? And you presume to pass technological judgement on that site? Wow.

  5. Dan Neely says

    @Gabriel I can't speak for @Michael; but the Popehat RSS feed hasn't been working reliably for me for a while (on my home net connection). I get nothing for a week or so at a time and then suddenly a large number of posts from the last few days. As a result, when I'm not busy I tend to try the main page to see if anything new has been posted, and am only using RSS as a backup notifier for when I'm busier than normal.

    During that time, at both home and work (and across multiple browsers), I've found myself having to do a Ctrl-R to reload the Popehat main page after initially navigating to it to actually see any new stories posted since my last visit. My assumption is that something is messed up with caching; but I haven't took any time to diagnose more extensively, beyond the fact that the problem doesn't appear to be affecting any other sites I visit.

  6. Teemu Leisti says

    You should consider posting this on a site where I don't have to manually refresh to see new posts.

    You have to refresh manually to see new posts? Truly, life is sometimes sheer hell.

  7. Daniel Weber says

    So it turns out that an official list of countries is hard to maintain.

  8. Thomas Downing says

    Excellent paper! So good that I not only read it, but found myself reading parts of some citations.

    Indeed TLD creation and assignment is a vexed problem. It isn't helped by ICANNs inconsistent actions. I will refrain from a pro-liberation-smacks-of-sixties rant here…oops, guess I just did in a way.

  9. Dan says

    Serious question, should other breakaway states like South Ossetia and Abkhazia have their own TLDs?

    It seems the distinction between these cases and Kosovo or East Timor is a matter of degree and not kind. How many states should have to recognize a country for it to get a TLD?

  10. Dan says

    Also, unrelated, but it's true about the refreshing. Some caching setting is wrong on this site. Going to popehat.com often serves up the previously seen version of the page until I hit refresh. Like this morning, This is literally the only blog I've ever seen display this behavior.

    While I'm complaining about the blog itself and not the content, does anyone else hate the impossible-to-see purple link text? With even-more-impossible-to-see black mouseover color?

  11. mcinsand says

    >>You have to refresh manually to see new posts? Truly, life is sometimes sheer hell.

    It might not be hell, but the need to manually refresh is something that I only see here. My suspicion is that the F5 keys have gotten tired of being ignored, and this is the pilot test of a nefarious function key conspiracy.

    In all seriousness, hitting F5 has just become a reflex on visiting Popehat. The site is worth it, although whoever manages the site might need a good pony-related threat.

  12. Ben says

    I actually emailed the UN Statistical Division about this a while back. Their reply indicated that they (and consequently or parallelly, ISO) could not recognise Kosovo as a statistical entity until the territory had a 'resolved status' with the UN General Assembly. That doesn't have to mean recognition of Kosovan independence, obviously (see: Palestine, Taiwan).

    I think a fine start would be for the UN to resolve at least that Kosovo is a "self-governing territory" (or something even more non-committal if necessary), which would clear some of the pragmatic issues, if not the legal or moral ones.

  13. Tradegeek says

    "no reasonable observer can likely see it ever returning to Serbian rule"

    The key word is "reasonable". I have a very good friend who's family is from Croatia. At his wedding, many years ago, I made the mistake of referring to language spoken in Croatia as Serbo-Croatian. I was quickly, and sternly, corrected that they spoke Croatian and that I should refrain speaking of or referring to anything related to Serbia.

    Years later I had a meeting with a Serbian born banker from Goldman Sachs. This was just after Russia annexed the Crimea. The subject of Putin came up. To say this banker was an rabid supporter of Putin would be an understatement. He sounded like he was reading the transcript of an interview with Alex Jones on RT. He explained that NATO was encircling all the Slavic nations, that the CIA controlled just about everything and (my favorite) that the US funded Muslim terrorists since the 80s in Kosovo and Bosnia to destroy Yugoslavia and the Serbian people. Putin was all that stood in the way of US genocide of Serbs!

    This was a very educated person. The one characteristic that is missing, in my experience, in the dynamic between the former Yugoslavian states (and much of the former Eastern Block countries) is reason. I believe many Serbs actually believe they will one day take back Kosovo.

  14. MDT says

    @Dan – I have the same issue about 50% of the time, navigate to Popehat, reload the page, and the page changes showing an article written 2-3 days ago that didn't show up the first time.

  15. David Schwartz says

    "ICANN could easily remedy the situation by granting a ccTLD to Kosovo as it has done for many countries (and for a number of less- than countries) in the past. ICANN relies on its general practice of using ISO 3166-1 country codes to refute any discussion of granting Kosovo its own ccTLD, although it has also made clear that this practice is not its official standard."

    This is unfair. ICANN follows ISO 3166-1 precisely to stay out of political conflict. Yes, they haven't tied their hands and sworn to always follow ISO 3166-1 because, who knows, ISO might do something crazy one day. They retain the ultimate power should they absolutely need it just like a restaurant reserves the right to refuse service to anyone.

    But ICANN has a policy and practice that keeps them out of these kinds of conflicts and allows them to remain politically neutral. Absent a showing that they've deviated from this practice in analogous (or less important) cases, you should openly acknowledge that you're asking for an unprecedented deviation from their normal policy, not disagreeing with an arbitrary determination that they've made.

  16. Christopher Best says

    I too have a non-working Popehat RSS feed and must manually refresh the front page to see any new stories. This is across Firefox, Pale Moon, and Chrome both at work and at home. This has been going on since sometime last year, as far as I remember.

  17. Jason K. says

    Ditto in regards to needing to refresh the front page to reliably get new posts. The way I found out something was wrong was when some other site referenced something written here that I didn't see when I viewed the page. This is a rather trivial deal if you know that it is happening, however I could see a new visitor not figuring this out. This is happening on both my desktop using Firefox (45.0.2) and my phone using Safari. As this is the only site impacted and it is being impacted across multiple machines and browsers, it seems unlikely to be a setting on the user end.

  18. says

    This may be relevant. I have no way of knowing whether these statements are fair or not, but until they're resolved it makes it hard for me to argue that my nation's representatives should be pushing for further UN recognition of the de-facto government.

  19. Rich Rostrom says

    Hmm. Wiki says a country may get a code under ISO 3166-1 if it is listed in the United Nations Terminology Bulletin Country Names. It will be listed if it is "A member of one of [the UN's] specialized agencies." The IMF is such an agency, and Kosovo is a member.

    Therefore Kosovo should be listed in Country Names, Kosovo should get an ISO 3166-1 code, and ICANN should issue the ccTLD to Kosovo.

    Why hasn't this happened?

    ISTM that if ICANN does strictly follow ISO 3166-1, then the blockage is upstream of them.

  20. Andrew Murphy says

    I suspect the caching issue is because you're sending

    Last-Modified:Thu, 01 Jan 1970 00:00:00 GMT

    As a http header.

    If you need help resolving that let me know. This is my area of expertise.

  21. Cervisia says

    The Popehat homepage is sent with a header of "Last-Modified: Thu, 01 Jan 1970 00:00:00 GMT".
    This header is used by the browser and the server to detemine whether to use the cached copy or to download the new contents. A fixed value makes it look as if the homepage has never changed.

    Google says this happens with a broken or misconfigured WordPress.

  22. Dan Neely says

    @Cervisia

    Thanks for figuring out what the root problem a number of us have been encountering.

    Hopefully whoever admins the site is reading this and can fix the problem. In the mean time, is there anything we can do to work around the error on our side?

  23. says

    @Dan Neely
    Set your browser history to clear cache upon closing. For Pale Moon browsers, for example,
    Tools>Options>Privacy>History>Settings. There you can tick the boxes you need.

  24. Kevin Kirkpatrick says

    @Cervisia

    In lieu of the enthusiasm for fixing issues of this nature, I suspect you'll need to phrase that in a slightly refined manner (in other words, you've probably done about 10% of the legwork here). A useful comment will probably need to look something like:
    "As the owner of a WordPress page, here's how to fix:
    1) Move your little mouse-like contraption next to the computer around. As you do so, notice how a little picture of an arrow moves around your screen. Continue using the mouse-thingy to maneuver the little pointer thing until it's on top of [explain how to find icon to launch web browser – may require uploading screenshots]
    2) Press the left-most button on the mouse-thing two times (in rapid succession). You should hear a faint "click-click" from the mouse as you do so. From here on, we'll call this operation a "double-click". Note, at times, you will only need to press the left-most mouse button once; that'll be called a "single-click" or "left-click". Do not use the right-most mouse button unless explicity told to do a "right-click", nor the middle-mouse button unless told to "middle-click"
    3 – 10) [Explain how to navigate to and login to WordPress admin page (probably referring to "sticky-notes" at some point)]
    10-30) [walk through steps of finding the header settings, modify them, and save changes. Again, screenshots may be helpful]
    "
    Good luck, and gods speed!

  25. Tom says

    The IMF isn't a specialised agency of the UN: it's one of the Breton Woods bodies. So it's not clear that an ISO 3166-1 code is due in any case.

    In blunt terms, this is a similar situation to Taiwan, Palestine or (in a more extreme sense) Transnistria etc. Being a partially recognised state whose existence is denied by a permanent member of the Security Council is not pleasant.

  26. Andrew Murphy says

    @Kevin

    The problem is that wordpress can have a bazillion plug ins and things that affect this sort of thing.

    It would be totally custom to each wordpress installation.

  27. Dan Neely says

    @Jim My browser uptime is significantly longer than the average interval between times I end up checking the Popehat main page because the screwed up RSS feed has Outlook sitting on its hands.

    Which means that even aside from the performance hit from having to redownload several dozen tabs worth of static data on each browser restart it would be a poor fix for the problem I have.

  28. Jim says

    @Dan Neely

    Chrome, Firefox, Pale Moon, and Vivaldi allow add ons that put a Clear Cache button on the toolbar. Edge allows you to clear cache within the browser menu. One such add on assigns the F9 key to the function.

  29. says

    Ok, I'll try to be helpful and see if I pull back a bloody stump. The ISO decides what gets added to ISO-3166-1. How do they do it? Here we go.

    ISO FAQ page:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20120604034240id_/http://www.iso.org/iso/country_codes/iso_3166-faqs/iso_3166_faqs_general.htm

    What is the procedure for adding new country names and codes to ISO 3166-1?

    New names and codes are added when the United Nations publish new names in either their Terminology Bulletin Country Names or in the Country and Region Codes for Statistical Use maintained by the United Nations Statistics Division. There is no other way of having new country names included in ISO 3166-1. So if a name is not on these lists it will not be incorporated into ISO 3166-1.

    A number of institutions are using the two letter code XK for Kosovo, so ICANN must be a meanie for not just going with the flow. The problem is that *anybody* can use XK, including any random Serbian who wants to screw with Kosovo. You see, ISO specifically reserves XK and a bunch of other codes as usable by anybody:

    "Are there any code elements available which I myself can assign in my own application of ISO 3166-1?

    Yes. There are series of codes which the ISO 3166/MA will never use in the updating process of ISO 3166-1 and which are freely available for users. To quote from ISO 3166-1:2006, clause 8.1.3 User-assigned code elements: "If users need code elements to represent country names not included in this part of ISO 3166, the series of letters AA, QM to QZ, XA to XZ, and ZZ, and the series AAA to AAZ, QMA to QZZ, XAA to XZZ, and ZZA to ZZZ respectively and the series of numbers 900 to 999 are available. These users should inform the ISO 3166/MA of such use."

    So unless you are sure that no serbian IT person will ever be a dick to Kosovo and set up competing registries and routers in the XK space, it's a really dumb idea to "go with the flow". The cheats that work on paper simply don't work when you're dealing with DNS namespaces.

    Elsewhere, the UN group that handles the actual assignment of names has a database holding detailed records of the names that are used to make up ISO 3166-1.
    http://unstats.un.org/unsd/geoinfo/geonames/

    Try selecting Kosovo and it's not in the drop down list, but Serbia is. Two cities are noted for Serbia. It's capital, Belgrade is one and the other is Pristina so that's where they're doing it on purpose.

    If you wish to protest this, the UN provides two contact people with emails, phones, and addresses. Here they are:

    Ms. Cecille Blake
    United Nations Statistics Division
    Two UN Plaza DC2-1678
    New York, NY 10017
    Tel: +1 (212) 963-5823
    Fax: +1 (212) 963-9851
    Mr. Paul Pacheco
    United Nations Statistics Division
    Two UN Plaza DC2-1641B
    New York, NY 10017
    Tel: +1 (917) 367-2189
    Fax: +1 (212) 963-4569

  30. Alex says

    A couple of years ago we were on vacation in the Balkans and we rented a car to drive from Sofia, Bulgaria to Dubrovnik, Croatia. I remember checking the insurance to make sure that we were covered in all the various countries we were driving through. It was not, in fact, valid in Kosovo, but for whatever political reasons, whoever drafted the insurance document didn't feel like they could acknowledge that Kosovo was a thing. I don't remember the exact euphemism, but it was something like, "no coverage in areas of Serbia that are not under the control of the Serbian government."

  31. W says

    Wouldn't a generic TLD like ".kosovo" solve most of the practical issues? There is no requirement for those to be countries (consider .berlin).

  32. says

    @TradeGeek: Kosovo is the cradle of Serbian orthodox religion. And let's not forget that the Albanians, who make up the majority of the population in Kosovo, have committed countless atrocities against the Serbs who remain in Kosovo. And your facts about what went on during the NATO bombings are inaccurate. Read works by Michael J. Parenti, John Bosnich, and Dianne Johnstone to find out just how badly our mainstream media covered up, spin-doctored, and otherwise concealed what really went on there from Americans, as the U.S. played a huge part in what went on there. So we were all stakeholders in a sick kind of way. Rambouillet Agreement, anyone?