Monday, April 4, 2011

US Efforts to Combat 'Pirates' by DNS seizure flops

As mentioned in the previous posts, several government agencies, including the DOJ (Dept. of Justice) and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), have been trying to combat online piracy by "seizing" the domain names of accused sites.  What this has involved is basically telling ICANN to remove a suspect site's domain name from the main DNS (domain name server) so that link between site name and IP address is broken.  Over the past few months, authorities have "shut down" a dozen file-sharing and streaming sites, and around 80 sites selling counterfeit goods.  The MPAA, the movie industry's trade group, recently proclaimed the program a rousing success.
In reality, it's not been so successful in it's professed goals.  The manner of 'seizures' has come under heavy criticism, including questions about its Constitutionality.  The seeming lack of due process and care was amply illustrated when ICE seized the domain names of 84,000 websites, wrongfully accusing them of trafficking in child pornography - and it wasn't that a few were wrongfully accused - they all were (it was the wrong list). 
In Congressional hearings afterwards, it was pointed out that the affadavits used to justify these and other seizures were full of factual and technical errors.  Administration officials blamed the judges granting the seizure warrants with "inadequate review," but face it, they wrote the things in the first place. Senator Ron Wyden (D, Oregon) questioned the lack of due process, wondering whether these seizures "could function as a means of end-running the normal legal process in order to target websites that might prevail in court."
Further, the folks at TorrentFreak have found that almost all of the 'seized" sites have re-emerged at other locations, so the "potential to access" the problematic content remains largely unhindered. So much for combating online piracy and counterfeit goods.

A perhaps more serious implication of these actions is the position it puts the U.S. in international debate about Internet governance.  Historically, the U.S. has funded the firms that run the domain name servers that lets users connect with sites globally.  Critics have historically questioned this, claiming that the U.S. might use this to "shut down" sites (even a whole country's sites) it disagreed with.  And, historically, the U.S. has pledged in international meetings and agreements that the DNS system was sacrosanct - that it would never try to exert such a power.  And yet, here we are - a U.S. administration exerting the right to "seize domain names" upon a simple assertion that there might be some lawbreaking going on.  And asserting that right without specific authorizing legislation, without Court review, and apparently without consideration of any broader implications.

Sources: "US Government 'Pirate' Domain Seizures Failed Miserably," TorrentFreak
              "5 Reasons Why the US Domain Seizures are Unconstitutional," TorrentFreak

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