The popular ‘.io’ domain name has become part of a complaint against the United Kingdom for  alleged human rights violations tied to its continuing administration of territories in the Indian Ocean. 

Sales of the ‘.io’ domain name are being contested as a part of a complaint filed by former islanders of the Chagos Archipelago, which has been at the center of a territorial dispute between Mauritius, a former British colony, and the U.K. since the 1980s. 

Now highly popular with numerous crypto, blockchain and other tech companies — not to mention various scams — ‘.io’ was formally the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) designation for “Indian Ocean.” Despite this, the domain name was acquired on the open market in the late 1990s by a U.K.-based firm, Internet Computer Bureau (ICB). 

The U.K. government receives an undisclosed share of revenue from sales of .io, in what the complaint claims is part of its ongoing colonial expropriation of the economic property and livelihood of the former islanders:

“The ccTLD .IO rights are a valuable property and generate millions of dollars in fees for ICB annually. The 1997 contract or agreement grants ICB exclusive rights to exploit this asset in the same way colonial powers have delegated exclusive rights in Africa to private companies to act on behalf of the colonizer [...] ICB therefore is the Occupying Power’s agent and acts in its stead in the matter of ccTLD .IO.”

The complaint notes that domain end users of .io include “thousands of crypto asset platforms” — among them exchanges, Initial Coin Offerings, and crypto miners — who “generate vast sums of unregulated and untaxed revenue and trade with volume of billions of dollars per day.” 

Crypto firms are able to generate this sum of allegedly unregulated revenue, the complaint claims, by taking advantage of “nonexistent commercial regulation” in the disputed territory. 

In addition to unjustly profiting from domain name sales, the complaint alleges that the U.K. “tolerates massive criminality” in overlooking the existence of “thousands of crypto criminal entities” registered on .io.

The colonial backdrop

The Chagos Archipelago was ruled over as a dependency of Mauritius by the U.K. between 1814 and 1965, when it was detached from Mauritius in order to establish a new colony designated the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). In addition to the archipelago, BIOT also includes several other islands that were detached from the Seychelles.

The Chagossians were displaced between 1967-1973 in order to make way for a joint military base with the United States, which exists to this day. 

Since the 1980s, Mauritius has sought to regain control over BIOT, claiming that its detachment shortly before Mauritius’ independence (in 1968) violated a 1960 UN resolution and has compromised the process of decolonization. In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly referred the decades-long dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). 

In 2019, the ICJ ordered the U.K. to hand back the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius “s rapidly as possible,” ruling that its continued occupation of the islands is illegal.