Lame-duck Congress resumed today, and international headlines are resounding with cries of unprecedented web censorship on news of a heavy federal hand laying a virtual smackdown on internet freedom as we know it.
During this otherwise quiet past Thanksgiving week, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division (ICE) executed seizure warrants against dozens of domains that ICE alleges to be facilitating illegal file-sharing of digital goods such as music and video, along with those that “appear to be connected to physical counterfeit goods.”
While affected domains so far all fall under the purview of copyright infringement, one has to wonder what this could mean for any other sites on the DOJ’s list of domains-non-grata.
ICE first became actively involved in matters of online gaming with the government’s case against Daniel Tzvetkoff, a payment processor for Full Tilt and PokerStars who was the first person publicly indicted for UIGEA violations.
These actions come as a battle over the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) has been brewing in Congress after 19 Senators in the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to move the measure forward with no public input.
Essentially, COICA would legitimize actions like today’s taken against file-sharing websites, authorizing “a blanket takedown of any domain alleged to be assisting activities that violate copyright law, based upon the judgment of state attorneys general.” [The Raw Story]
One of COICA’s strongest supporters is Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who was a primary backer of the UIGEA. Taking the lead opposing the bill is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a PPA-graded B-lister and friend-o-poker who briefly sought to include internet gambling revenue as a way to offset healthcare costs in September 2009.
Further explanation from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
“The main mechanism of the bill is to interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), which translates names like “www.eff.org” or “www.nytimes.com” into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. The bill creates a blacklist of censored domains; the Attorney General can ask a court to place any website on the blacklist if infringement is “central” to the purpose of the site.”
Whatever the outcome of COICA in Congress, it seems that Homeland Security isn’t waiting on legislation before taking action against some sites that they deem to be operating outside of the auspices of federal law.