‘Operation In Our Sites II’ – Out of Sight for the Blind

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

[Note: On Cyber Monday, Operation In Our Sites II, a coordinated effort of the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division, the Department of Homeland Security, and nine U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, “obtained and executed seizure orders against 82 domain names of websites engaged in the sale and distribution of counterfeit goods and illegal copyrighted works.” It specifically “targeted online retailers of a diverse array of counterfeit goods, including sports equipment, shoes, handbags, athletic apparel, sunglasses, and illegal copies of DVDs, music and software” (USDOJ). In her letter below to the Justice Department, Claude Almansi, Educational Technology and Change Journal associate administrator and editor for accessibility issues, points out that “the seizure notices added to the sites seized in ‘Operation In Our Sites II’  are surprisingly inaccessible to people who must use a screen reader because they are blind or have other print disabilities.” -js]

from: Claude Almansi <claude.almansi@gmail.com>
to: askdoj@usdoj.gov
cc: Webmaster.ICE@dhs.gov,
webmaster@usdoj.gov,
James N Shimabukuro <jamess@hawaii.edu>
date: Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 11:29 PM
subject: Accessibility issue with the seizure notices of “Operation In Our Sites II”

I am associate administrator and editor for accessibility issues at Educational Technology and Change Journal (1) and am thinking of writing a piece on “Operation In Our Sites II”, described by Attorney General Eric Holder and ICE’s Director John Morton in their Nov. 29, 2010 press conference (2).

In view of the US government’s commitment to digital accessibility as per Section 508 of ADA, evidenced for instance in the joint letter about the accessibility of e-book readers  sent last to the presidents of US universities and colleges by the US Departments of Justice and of Education last Summer (3), the seizure notices added to the sites seized in “Operation In Our Sites II” (4) are surprisingly inaccessible to people who must use a screen reader because they are blind or have other print disabilities.

Image of text used without alternative description on the homepage of the seized sites

In fact, these notices are made of an image of text  without an alternative description giving the real text of the notice, like this:

<div align=”center”><img src=”IPRC_Seized_2010_11.jpg” width=”1024″
height=”768″ border=”0″></div>

These images are hosted on the seized sites: e.g. its URL for 2009jerseys.com is http://2009jerseys.com/IPRC_Seized_2010_11.jpg; for 51607.com, http://51607.com/IPRC_Seized_2010_11.jpg“; etc. This seems to indicate that you did not only seize their domain names, but also manage their content.

If you actually manage the content of the seized sites, should you not implement the accessibility requirement stipulated in “§ 1194.22 Web-based intranet and internet information and applications: (a) A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided (e.g., via “alt”, “longdesc”, or in element content). ” (5) of the “Section 508 Standards Guide”?

Or better: why not use a proper textual web page instead of this amateurish ’90ish image of text, which suggests a hoax like the one by Legendas.tv last Summer (6)?

Thank you in advance for your reply.

Sincerely
Claude Almansi
Geneva, Switzerland
+41 76 401 85 69
claude.almansi@gmail.com

Cc: Webmasters of the ICE and DoJ websites; James N. Shimabukuro, administrator and chief editor of Educational Technology and Change Journal.

(1) http://etcjournal.com. My contributions are listed in <https://etcjournal.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/claude-almansi#etcpub>.
(2) as reported in <http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/ag/speeches/2010/ag-speech-101129.html>
and <http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1011/101129washington.htm>
(3) available at <http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-20100629.html> and <http://www.ada.gov/kindle_ltr_eddoj.htm>
(4) as listed in <http://www.ice.gov/doclib/news/releases/2010/domain_names.pdf>
(5) source: <http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?fuseAction=stdsdoc#Web>
(6) as reported in <http://torrentfreak.com/fansubbing-site-fakes-ice-bust-to-protest-media-reporting-100719/>, e.g.

[PS. Thanks for having posted this, Jim. Actually ‘Operation In Our Sites II’ concerns all of us, whether we are blind or sighted, US citizens or not. Most of the domains seized were selling counterfeit junk, so they won’t be missed per se, but one of them, torrent-finder.com, is only a meta-search engine for torrents: i.e. it does not even host torrents, let alone copyright-infringing works that could be downloaded via torrents.

And the torrent-finder.com domain was registered by someone in Alexandria, Egypt, on Dec. 30, 2005, via GoDaddy,com as the plain registry data state. However the underlying registry data state that since Nov. 24, 2010, when ICE seized the domain name, the site has been hosted on seizedservers.com, whose domain name was in turn registered by immixGroup IT Solutions, which was awarded an IT services contract “with the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Cyber Crimes Center (C3) worth up to $7.8 million” in May 2010.

Actually, torrent-finder still works fine via its other domain, torrent-finder.info, registered by the same person in Alexandria on April 4, 2006. This might be due to the fact that .com, .net, .tv and .cc domains are managed by Verisign, who chose to collaborate with ICE / immixGroup (or maybe didn’t have much choice, being  a US concern), whereas  .info domains  are managed by Afilias, which being Irish may have some more independence.

The info above was tracked by members of the Digitale Allmend association and of the NCSG-NCUC-DISCUSS listserv. Had it not been for their patient work, I would have remained convinced that the domain seizure by ICE story was a hoax: US govt agencies seizing foreign sites and disrespecting US accessibility laws in the process is rather hard to believe – even though hampering people with disabilities in crusades for copyright enforcement is nothing new.]

4 Responses

  1. Claude, thank you for bringing this irony to our attention. The feds, with the best of intentions, can blindly overstep their own protocols and best practices. A critical decision such as how to post the seizure announcement was left to someone who didn’t have an inkling about accessibility issues. And to compound the problem, this person’s superiors apparently don’t have a clue, too. And these are supposed to be the U.S. government’s experts on web-related problems. I’d suggest that the responsible agencies immediately contact you for a series of workshops on accessibility issues and how to avoid and resolve them. -Jim S

  2. Hi Jim,

    I think federal agencies know about accessibility rules: in fact, ICE’s video about the seizures I embedded in ICE’s Seizures of Domain Names Concern Us All is captioned.

    The inaccessibility of the seizure notice for people who have to use a screenreader seems due to the fact that ICE apparently outsourced this part of Operation in Our Sites to a private firm, ImmixtGroup. See Immixtgroup’s May 17. 2010 press communiqué.

  3. Curio: among the referals for this post, there is a Google search for “operation in our sights 2”. The “sights” spelling (as in “gun sights”) certainly makes more sense than “in our sites”, considering that most of the sites whose domain names got seized were not US sites.

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