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The controversy over the .ss top-level domain

16 March 2012

When South Sudan became the world’s newest country last July, it set about nation building. This included establishing a country-code top level domain (ccTLD), for which the nation wanted .ss. Although the SS string appeared on the International Standards Organisation’s ISO 3166-1-alpha-2 code list in August, the forerunner to ICANN approval for a ccTLD, .ss is still not plugged into the internet.

One of the challenges facing .ss is the connection made in Europe between the letters ‘SS’ and the Nazi movement. The initials also stand for Schutzstaffel, a paramilitary organisation in Nazi Germany that was responsible for many atrocities in the first half of the twentieth century. Some observers have been concerned that if South Sudan were delegated .ss, the TLD could be commandeered by neo-Nazi groups.

South Sudan Registry, the company apparently established to run the TLD, seems to say that the Nazi connection will not be a problem and, at best, may even drive interest. “Many other TLDs like .com .org .net .de .nl .fr etc also host neo-Nazi websites or hate material targeted at various groups,” says the company. “This will be an interesting debate as it unfolds but it will certainly make .SS one of the most recognisable ccTLD domains.”

The issue raises an important question that is still unresolved in domain name circles: to what extent are ICANN, registries, registrars and registrants liable for the content on a website at which a certain domain name resolves?

Domain name registration is a key battleground in the war over freedom of speech. But domain name sales can also represent a new source of revenue to a national government, especially one as poor as South Sudan’s. The government may wish to attract brand owners as registrants, but most companies would steer clear of a TLD if it becomes known as an online Nazi hangout.

South Sudan Registry is right - it’s an interesting debate indeed.