The Indian Consulate General in Geneva published a notice in the International Herald Tribune (1 December2011) advising the public about a fraudulent website using the Consulate’s name. So far, diplomacy had been generally shielded from this type of fraud, although there were a few examples of misuse of domain names of international organisations (WTO – www.gatt.org). One of the most lucrative Internet fraud to date has been in humanitarian operations. Every newsworthy disaster is followed quickly by fraud on the Internet (the tsunamis of 2004, Hurricane Katrina in the USA, the Szechuan earthquake in China, the Haiti earthquake, bush fires in Australia in 2010, and the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand).[i]
What can the Indian Government do in a situation such as this? Can (and through what means) India force the takedown of the fake website of the Indian Consulate in Geneva? Let us make a few legal speculations. If the website is registered under the .ch domain, the government of India may take action based on Article 28 of the 1963 Vienna Consular Convention request of receiving state to provide “full facilities for the performance of the functions of the consular post”. The closest analogy would be that India would have the right to close any building which claims to be Indian Consulate General. But, in the online world, this is not likely to be effective. Governments cannot just order national Internet registrars to remove a website. Earlier this year, the US authorities request to remove “wikileaks.ch” was refused.
If the fraudulent website was registered under a generic domain (.com, .org, .net), the situation is even more complicated, since the responsible registrars could be located almost anywhere in the world (most likely in the United States). The possibility for legal action, even on the level of theoretical speculation, is almost non-existent.
The fight against this fraudulent website is likely to be even more complicated with introduction of new generic domain names over the next few years. In addition, the possibility to identify and stop fraudulent activities on the fast-growing social media (Facebook, Twitter) is even more limited.
In this context, Indian General Consulate did the only thing it could do, practically speaking. It made a public notice. The impact of this public notice could be stronger if it was done in the most prominent online spaces instead if, or in addition to traditional printed newspapers (in this case, the International Herald Tribune).
[i] According to estimates from the USA, Internet fraud accounts for 10% of money collected after the major humanitarian disasters. The question of the Internet Fraud in Humanitarian Field wad discussed at .