Source: techdirt – By Mike Masnick
Over at the State of the Net conference in Washington DC today, John Morton, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Homeland Security felt it was time to defend ICE’s seizure of domain names. Of course, he did not actually address the many different problems with the details of how they seized the domains. Instead, he just insisted that ICE had no “intention” of limiting free speech. That they did so in clear violation of the law… well… just skip over that part.
He also claimed that “the same rules must apply” both online and off — which is entirely true. So I’m curious why he thinks the First Amendment and all of the case law concerning prior restraint or shutting down legitimate speech don’t apply online. Not surprisingly, he ignores all of that as well.
He also stated:
“We can’t live in a society where the Internet has some protection for criminals. … We are going to stay at it. I am not apologetic on this last point.”
Here he’s just being disingenuous. The law does not protect criminals. There are existing laws that allow the government or private parties to file a lawsuit against anyone accused of breaking the law, and allowing (as per our normal due process system) an adversarial hearing to be had in court so that both sides get their say. What Morton and his team did ignores all of that. It ignored due process. It seized sites that had substantial non-infringing content, it used serious technical and legal errors to get a judge to rubber stamp seizures of domain names that were widely used by the music industry to promote their own works. And he addresses none of that.
Finally, he claims that the domain seizures were really effective because a bunch of other websites shut down in the wake of the seizures. This is kind of funny because of how naive it makes Morton and ICE appear. Yes, some websites that knew they would be equally easy for Homeland Security to seize without due process or respect for the First Amdenment switched to other URLs outside of US control, but it’s pretty naive to think that those operating the sites simply stopped doing so.
No one has yet come up with a reasonable explanation why suing these sites first was not possible. Why did they need to be seized? The only explanation given so far was that some third party might get ahold of them and use them for nefarious purposes, but we already explained how that makes no sense. A judge could easily have issued an injunction barring the sale of the domain names while a lawsuit was ongoing. It’s troubling that the best John Morton can do is to simply make stuff up to support a campaign of censorship on behalf of the entertainment industry (who was such a close partner that the initial part of this campaign was announced from Disney’s headquarters). We should be quite concerned when law enforcement officials are taking orders from companies, and the best defense they can come up with to support these actions is to lie and pretend that there were no other legal means that do not violate free speech or due process.