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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Department Of Homeland Security Seizes Suspected Piracy Websites

Kevin Douglas Grant |
November 27, 2010 | 1:17 p.m. PST

Executive Editor

The federal government shut down more than 70 sites suspected of piracy and/or selling counterfeit goods during Thanksgiving week, another indication the Department of Homeland Security is working to change the Web's "Wild West" reputation.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote: ""We cannot excuse the behavior because it happens online and the owners operate overseas. The Internet needs to be free – not lawless."

Sites included in the large-scale seizure ranged from small e-commerce vendors to large file sharing sites.  The sites' owners found that they'd been locked out of their domains, their pages replaced with a notice reading: "This domain has been seized by ICE - Homeland Security Investigations, pursuant to a seizure warrant ordered by a United States District Court..."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a consumer rights advocacy organization, takes issue with the way the sites were shut down:  "'Any time you are going to take a site down, and potentially put a business out of business, they should have an opportunity to represent themselves before that happens,' said Peter Eckersley, senior staff technologist at EFF."

Some technology bloggers see the seizures, which lumped together consumer goods businesses and media sharing platforms, as unwelcome government intrusion.  The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously for the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) earlier this month, but the full Senate has yet to vote on it.

Techdirt wrote a post questioning the constitutionality of COICA: "There are many, many serious problems with the way COICA is written, but this post will highlight why it is a bill for censorship, and how it opens the door to wider censorship of speech online."

Some folks are even more panicked: "Where is all this going? Today the U.S. government is targeting websites focused on copyright violations, but if the public tolerates this government-sponsored censorship of the web, it's only a matter of time before these government powers are expanded to control the content of the internet."
At this point, most the sites affected appear to be low-grade counterfeiting operations.  But the COICA debate speaks to the greater issue of just how involved the American government will/should be involved in policing the internet.

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