Homeland Security Seizing Websites
posted at 11:37 am on November 27, 2010 by Howard Portnoy
The year might be 2010, but it’s beginning to feel like 1984 all over again. Big Brother has indeed been watching us—for some of us, in our most intimate state thanks to advanced imaging airport scanners. Now the Department of Homeland Security appears to be taking the law into its own hands.
The investigative arm of DHS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has seized and shut down several dozen websites that are suspected of facilitating or violating copyright infringement. The operative verb in the previous sentence is suspected. In our system of jurisprudence a person or entity is deemed innocent until proven guilty, no matter how compelling the evidence of wrongdoing.
And sometimes, as the blog TorrentFreak notes, proving guilt in these cases is hardly a slam dunk:
When a site has no tracker, carries no torrents, lists no copyright works unless someone searches for them and responds just like Google, accusing it of infringement becomes somewhat of a minefield—unless you’re ICE Homeland Security Investigations that is.
But ICE doesn’t seem to believe it is impelled to play by the rules. As the exasperated owner of the file-sharing site Torrent-Finder told TorrentFreak, “My domain has been seized without any previous complaint or notice from any court!”
The strong arm tactic began almost simultaneously with the approval by a Senate Judiciary Committee of the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA). The bill, which would effectively give the U.S. Attorney General carte blanche to shut down a website without due process, has a long way to go before it becomes law—if in fact it ever does. It is already meeting criticism, including from some Democrats like Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who finds the legislation too heavy-handed and has vowed to block it.
Sites that are barred by ICE carry a Prohibition-style label in place of content that reads “This domain named has been seized by ICE, Homeland Security Investigations.”
One question that comes to mind is “Why is this action being initiated by the Department of Homeland Security?” Granted, some of the illegal trafficking of copyrighted material originates overseas, but DHS was created expressly to deal with matters of terrorism and illegal border crossings. Doesn’t the department already have plenty on its plate without needing to dilute its resources to monitor the illegal sharing of popular media?
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