The .io is a popular domain extension for many SaaS (software as a service) companies. In the world of computers, I/O stands for Input/Output, a common term used when discussing computing processes. Such is the popularity of .io that Google’s ad targeting treats it as a gTLD. However, the origins of this extension don’t lie in the tech world, but in Britain’s colonial history.
The Chagos Archipelago was administered by the UK as a Dependency of Mauritius, the island country in the Indian Ocean which was a former British colony. In 1965, the UK detached the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius to create another colony named the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). It also included some other islands detached from the Seychelles, which were later returned when Seychelles gained independence.
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. Mauritius has sought to regain control of the archipelago since 1980, citing violation of a 1960 UN resolution.
In 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the UK’s occupation of the archipelago was illegal and ordered it to hand over Chagos to Mauritius as soon as possible. The UK government has stated that the islands will be returned when they will no longer be required for defence purposes.
.io is the ccTLD of BIOT and has now 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. It was acquired by the UK based Internet Computer Bureau (ICB) in late 1990s, which now administers the ccTLD through its registry NIC.IO.
The complaint is addressed to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, as Mauritius is party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The complainant alleges that the UK government receives an undisclosed share of revenue from sales of .io, a part of its ongoing colonial exploitation of the economic property and livelihood of the 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 details that domain end users of .io include “thousands of crypto asset platforms” —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.” They are able to do this, the complaint claims, by taking advantage of “nonexistent commercial regulation” in the disputed territory.
It asks of the commission to declare that the Chagossians have a property right to the ccTLD under the African Charter and the right to restitution against the UK and the ICB, consequently restitution of the property of the .io ccTLD.