The island of Sark, a United Kingdom royal fiefdom located in the Channel Islands and measuring just two square miles (517 hectares), has succeeded in its 20-year quest to be officially recognized by the International Standards Organization (ISO).
The decision will lead to creation of a new two-letter code for the island and an addition to the internet’s country codes: the .sk code is already taken by Slovakia so Sark may end up with .cq form in reference to the original Norman dialect spelling of the island – Sercq.
That’s something that Sark has been desperate to achieve thanks to the ever-growing impact of the internet on modern life. “In today’s connected world, business and personal matters are increasingly transacted online,” reads a quote at the start of the 54-page submission [PDF] to the ISO, written by the secretary of the group that has spent 21 years trying to make recognition a reality.
“In such a world, it makes it even more important for a small island like ours to have the ability to promote and protect its identity,” Conseiller Nicolas Moloney states.
Even though Sark controls its own budget, taxation, waters, medical register, vehicle registration, licensing, legislature and fishing rights, it doesn’t exist online. Instead everything is currently routed through nearby island of Guernsey, since Sark is officially part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey and has been since 1204 (it’s historically complicated). Guernsey is a 45-minute boat ride away, with its own .gg notation.
With every online form in the world using the ISO’s 3166 list to populate its dropdown list of territories, if you aren’t on that list, you effectively don’t exist on the internet. For an island strongly dependent on tourism, that is a major problem. “Our future depends on this and we therefore request support for our identity so we can be recognised correctly by the world,” its petition reads.
Banking, shipping addresses of goods bought on the internet and geographical identity for trade, tourism and travel are all largely dependent these days on having a unique online identifier. Without it, Sark faced an existential threat.
A determined no
But despite the full backing the UK government, reams of evidence of its autonomy, the European Court of Human Rights specifically recognizing Sark as a dependent territory, and Sark’s application fulfilling every criteria necessary to get on to the official ISO-3166 list, it has gone back and forth with the committee that decides the list for 21 years. At one point the committee even changed its own rules to prevent Sark from being recognized.
In the end, the man behind the push, Register reader Mike Locke, realized that they were never going to get anywhere by going to the same committee over and over again and went above their heads. A meeting of the ISO’s Technical Management Board, in Oslo, Norway, at the end of February heard Sark’s appeal [PDF], presented by the UK government’s British Standards Institution (BSI). Its decision was only announced late on Thursday last week. It reads [PDF, resolution 15]:Noting the appeal received by BSI on 12 August 2018 against the ISO 3166/MA decision on the Sark request for an alpha code, and having reviewed the process and criteria for assignment of codes, and
Noting that there are islands that are not member states of the UN but have been assigned a code,
Supports the request from Sark, and
Requests the ISO3166/MA to assign Sark the requested code.
On Sark itself, the committee that has spent innumerable hours since 1999 trying to get approval proudly told the Chief Pleas (the parliament of Sark), that: “After much hard work both on and off island the Special Committee for the Top Level Domain is very pleased to announce that the ISO Technical Board has accepted the application and recommended approval of a Country Code for Sark and inclusion on the ISO 3166 Standard.”
Shortly after, the island went into a lockdown over the novel coronavirus.
The rest of the story is a bizarre tale of the ISO committee refusing to change an inane decision again and again and again.