A trio of US members of congress has expressed “deep” concerns over the way government officials shut down websites that are suspected of aiding piracy or selling counterfeit goods.
Launched in June 2010 and overseen by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), 'Operation In Our Sites’ has led to the seizure of 761 domain names. ICE officials must obtain a seizure warrant from a judge ordering the site’s registry operator—only those in the US—to transfer it to the government.
In a letter sent to the heads of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE’s work, and the Department of Justice, which liaises with ICE under the operation, Zoe Lofgren, Jason Chaffetz and Jared Polis say there are lingering concerns over the alleged lack of due process followed by ICE.
“Complaints from several websites, in addition to press accounts, indicate that In Our Sites has resulted in the seizure of domains without sufficient due process and transparency, based on links and content that appear to have been lawfully provided to the sites,” say the three.
The letter highlights the wrongful seizure of dajaz1.com, a hip-hop blog accused of copyright infringement. “In that case, the affidavit on which the seizure was based ultimately proved to be inaccurate. Much of Dajaz1’s information was lawful.”
Although the site was restored in December 2011 after a year-long legal battle, the congress members complain that ICE obtained a “series of secret, ex parte extensions, hindering Dajaz1’s ability to present its case thoroughly during the year the site was suppressed”.
The letter adds that there have been other, similar complaints about ICE’s work, meaning there are “deep concerns” with the department. The congress members demand the heads answer questions on how ICE selects the sites to target, and which site owners have tried to retrieve their domains.
Dated August 30, 2012, the letter came only one day after ICE was forced to return two sites to Spanish company Puerto 80, which had provided links to sites streaming sporting events. ICE seized the domains in January 2011 but, following a legal battle, dropped the case on August 29.
Although it appears that these are the only two cases of ICE being forced to return sites, brand owners may be keen to view how, if at all, ICE’s approach to seizing domains changes in the future.
This article was first published on 14 September 2012 in World IP Review
US Congress, ICE, anti-counterfeiting, domain names, gTLDs, copyright infringement