ICE’s Seizures of Domain Names Concern Us All

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

‘Operation in Our Sites II’ – Out of Sight for the Blind was about the inaccessibility for the blind and for people with print disabilities,  of the notices  added to the sites that were seized by ICE in the last week of November: because accessibility is what I write about here, normally and because this crass violation of the very first principle of accessibility  was so odd, from a US government’s agency, that it suggested a hoax or a parody.

Conquest Of Constantinople By The Crusaders In 1204

However,  make no mistakes these seizures concern us all, and particularly educators. As Hartwig Thomas pointed out in
US-Attacke auf das System der Domänen-Namen (my translation):

…One consequence [of the seizures] is that average users must now learn about the concepts of IP addresses and domain names, in order to keep control of what happens with them (…).

So it is the responsibility of educators to help students understand these concepts. especially because, as Hartwig adds:

Another consequence is that the US has shown the word how cyberwar is played. It is to be feared that the world will prove very good at learning.

And therefore the younger must learn these things to be able to resist rogue governments that violate their own country’s laws and international agreements by waging – or by  hiring privateers to wage (link updated 2011-01-12 as URL changed; WebCite archived version) – cyberwars against alleged “pirates” or  “traitors”.

Sir Nelson, Knight of the White Rose.

By bgautrey. Some rights reserved

The torrent-finder.com case

Torrent-finder.com, the domain of a meta-search engine for torrents,  was among the domains seized in Operation in Our Sites 2. On Dec. 6, 2010, its owner published a statement describing the seizure and his and his lawyer’s so far vain attempts to obtain information about the motive for the seizure,. He published this statement on his other site, torrent-finder.info, where the meta-search engine still works. Here it is in full:

On Thursday, the 25th of November 2010, the Torrent Finder domain ( http://www.torrent-finder.com ), registered with Godaddy, was seized by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without any prior takedown notice or specific allegations of infringing activity. The Domain IP was suddenly changed without the registrar’s knowledge and the system displayed a “Pending Registry Action” message on the domain’s status. No contact was given until Wednesday, the 1st of December, when Godaddy replied to my inquiries, giving a contact for an ICE agent.

On Thursday, the 2nd of December, David Snead who is representing Torrent Finder contacted the ICE agent in charge who told him that “the orders are under seal, but that the seal will be lifted today or tomorrow”. However, we have not heard from them until writing this post. Another email from Godaddy clarified that the action was taken by VeriSign: “please understand that these actions were taken by Verisign at the Registry level; and not by Go Daddy”. The story was first reported on TorrentFreak and NYTimes.com.

Torrent Finder is a meta search engine that searches other search engines through iframes redirecting users to other domains and websites that Torrent Finder does not manage or control; most of the sites are suggested by Torrent Finder users through URL suggestion form. There have been many explanations about the mechanism of Torrent Finder Search on the media and how it works just like Google or Bing despite that Google does link to .torrent files directly. “So, when is the U.S. Government going to seize the Google domain?” Inquisitr.com asks. Ands Torrent Freak writes “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” and many others ask the same question, for instance Techdirt and Technobuffalo.com.

However, Torrent Finder was moved to torrent-finder.info domain and is still operating without any problem.

“The Rise of Web Censorship” is how Steven Vaughan-Nichols describes the seizure; he says “You see, Torrent-Finder, which is back up under a new domain name, Torrent-Finder.info doesn’t host Torrent file or even BitTorrent file trackers. It’s just a search engine dedicated to file torrents such as movies, TV shows, or software programs. You can find the same file torrents with Google if you know what you’re doing. Torrent-Finder, and sites like it, just makes specific kinds of file searches easier.”. Grant Gross reported to PCWorld that The Electronic Frontier Foundation vowed to fight domain-name seizures; advanced correspondence between David Snead and EFF attorney are in progress.

So far, the real reason of the seizure is not clear. However, there have been suggestions that this is a test case for COICA which has already been protested by many online campaigns such as demandprogress.org and EFF. We ask for your support in our case. please join these campaigns and send your suggestions to our email address. If you are a webmaster please add a link to this post, this is serious and if they pass the law then the sites list will be much bigger, it is as simple as shutting down the sites they do not like!

Please follow us on twitter for more updates.

ICE’s “explanations”

On Nov. 29, ICE and the Department of Justice held a joint press conference about the domain seizures. The ensuing press communique with  the declaration by John Morton, ICE’s director, sheds no light on the motives for seizing a meta-search engine like Torrent Finder. ICE also produced a for-dummies video summary of that press conference, where William Ross, also of ICE, tells how ICE determined which domains/sites should be seized by first buying fakes from them, (1:18 – 1:25) :

But of course, this criterion cannot apply to Torrent Finder, which is only a meta-search engine does not sell anything.  Nor does anything else in that video explain the seizure of Torrent-Finder.

What is striking in this video is the Bushian “War against Evil” rhetorics (see its transcript), with counterfeiters  described as “prowling in the back alleys of the internet, masquerading, duping and stealing” and bellicose images like “This is a long fight.”…”We are in the throes of a heated and pitched battle.” – up to the defiant  and proud recognition that the seizures won’t affect counterfeit trade (just as Bush’s War against Evil did not diminish terrorism) but will go on all the same:

Have we rid the Internet of these websites? No. There are others, there will be more.

Will many of these websites reappear under different domain names? Yes, they will.
But I can tell you this: we are not going away. If we can seize websites, we will.
If we can find the operators, we will. If we can arrest and prosecute counterfeiters
and copyright violators, we will.

James Carroll’s 2003 warning about Bush’s  War against Evil ideology also obtains for ICE’s:

…the worst manifestations of evil have been the blowback of efforts to be rid of it. If one can refer to the personification of evil, Satan’s great trick consists in turning the fierce energy of such purification back upon itself. Across the distance of history, the most noble ambition has invariably led to the most ignoble deeds. This is because the certitude of nobility overrides the moral qualm that adheres to less transcendent enterprises. …

even though – fortunately – the collateral damages of ICE’s  acknowledgedly inefficient Operation in Our Sites 2 do not directly kill children.  However, violating the very tenets of the internet (while purporting to preserve its integrity – John Morton again: same video, 1:26-1:34) might undermine it and indeed cause deaths via lack of information. In fact, as the Torrent Finder statement above says, even widely used search engines like Google can also be used to find torrents. What if ICE should decide, by the same token, to disable them?

Crusaders battle

3 Responses

  1. More worrying news about domain seizures and copyright enforcement without possibility of appealing:

    Victoria Espinel announces further domain seizures

    See White House to continue copyright crackdown by Tony Romm.
    This news was taken up by Techdirt in US Copyright Czar: Expect More Domain Censorship, both on Dec. 6, 2010. Comments to both articles are worth reading too – e.g. this one to the Techdirt article by “Anonymous Coward”:

    If having a gTLD (.com, .net, .org, …) puts your domain at a risk of seizure under badly-specified conditions (oh, that stock photo you bought was not authorized to be sold by the original photographer? Too bad it is not your fault, your domain is now gone!), people will start to avoid buying them and instead buy ccTLDs (country-code TLDs, for instance .de, .nl, .ch…).
    The registrars who sell gTLD domain names are really going to like taking a hit on their income.

    (The official title of Victoria Espinel is “IP Enforcement Coordinator”: media call her Copyright Czar for short. As to her own and others’ view of this role, see Senate Oversight Of IP Czar… Only Involves Entertainment Industry Execs. Techdirt, June 17 2010).

    Deletion of kitten videos by YouTube

    See Google accidentally wipes out a chunk of internet’s kitten videos. Dean Wilson. Techeye.net, Dec. 3, 2010:

    Google has blundered, banning a bunch of its YouTube users this week for absolutely no reason at all.
    The suspensions were revealed by “Liz” at YouTube Support. (…)
    She said that the bans were made “in error”, but did not state what exactly went wrong on Google’s end. Potentially the problem was related to Google’s new DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) compliance rules, which means Google will respond to copyright infringement allegations more swiftly with removals and bans. …

    The linked article, techeye.net/internet/google-to-censor-torrent-searches, by Nick Farrell, also dated Dec. 3, says:

    Search engine outfit Google has decided to start censoring searches so that they do not offend the music and film industry.
    The outfit is going to stop allowing its search engine to find torrent sites and places that might be distributing pirated content.
    Google has announced an updated copyright plan and promised to respond to takedown requests in a more timely manner and focus more intensely on expelling infringing content from its products. …

    .
    All for now.

  2. On March 21. 2011, the Center for Democracy and Technology published a dossier entitled CDT Warns Against Widespread Use of Domain-Name Tactics To Enforce Copyright which explains in detail and documents why seizures of domain names as those by ICE are not the right way to protect copyright.

  3. See also: US anti-piracy body targets foreign website owners for extradition
    Peter Walker, guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 July 2011:

    Britons could face charges for breaking US copyrights even if they have no link to America and servers are based elsewhere.
    British website owners could face extradition to the US on piracy charges even if their operation has no connection to America and does something which is most probably legal in the UK, the official leading US web anti-piracy efforts has told the Guardian.
    The US’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is targeting overseas websites it believes are breaking US copyrights whether or not their servers are based in America or there is another direct US link, said Erik Barnett, the agency’s assistant deputy director.
    As long as a website’s address ends in .com or .net, if it is implicated in the spread of pirated US-made films, TV or other media it is a legitimate target to be closed down or targeted for prosecution, Barnett said. (…)

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