Catalonia’s Referendum and the Internet

Catalonia has its own top level domain, .cat. Not a vanity domain, this TLD provides an element of national identity in a region of Spain that has sought independence for many years. In the wake of the referendum, the office of the TLD registry was raided and computers seized. As reported by Internet News:

The Guardia Civil officers entered the .cat registry’s offices around 9am local time this morning and have seized all computers in the domain registry’s offices in downtown Barcelona.

The move comes a couple of days after a Spanish court ordered the domain registry to take down all .cat domain names being used by the upcoming Catalan referendum.

The .cat domain registry currently has over 100 thousand active domain names and in light of the actions taken by the Spanish government it’s unclear how the registry will continue to operate if their offices are effectively shutdown by the Spanish authorities. The seizure won’t impact live domain names or general day to day operations by registrars, as the registry backend is run by CORE and leverages global DNS infrastructure. However it is deeply worrying that the Spanish government’s actions would spill over onto an entire namespace.

A TLD is a symbol of national and political independence that the Spanish government is likely seeking to remove by taking this action. The Internet Society issued two statements about the raid, one initial statement and a second clarifying statement.

The initial statement made it clear that the Internet Society sees TLD operators as neutral parties:

We are concerned by reports that this court order would require a top-level domain (TLD) operator such as .CAT to begin to block “all domains that may contain any kind of information about the referendum”. We do not see it as the expertise and mandate of TLD operators within the Internet’s ecosystem to engage in monitoring and blocking of content outside of receiving judicial requests related to specific domains.

The second statement underscores this:

We firmly believe that intermediaries (in this case the top-level domain (TLD) operator, but it could be any other intermediary such as an Internet Service Provider (ISP)) should not be put in the position of having to decide what content is legal and what is not. Simply put, this is not the role of TLD registries.

Regardless of the fact that the Catalan region is not an independent nation from Spain (although they voted to become one in the referendum), the TLD helps the community identify as a distinct group with a distinct identity and community that deserves to be represented as such on the Internet. Wikipedia provides additional context about the granting and ideals behind the .cat TLD.