DHS domain name seizures draw ire of House members
Three members of the House Judiciary Committee have voiced their concerns to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano regarding the DHS's seizure of domain names as part of Operation In Our Sites.
In an Aug. 30 letter (.pdf) to Holder and Napolitano, Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) charged that complaints from several websites and press accounts "indicate that In Our Sites has resulted in the seizure of domains without sufficient due process and transparency, based on links and content that appear to have been lawfully provided to the sites."
Launched in November 2010, Operation In Our Sites is a law enforcement initiative managed by DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement to protect consumers by targeting counterfeit and piracy on the Internet. As the principal investigative arm of DHS, ICE is a law enforcement agency with broad responsibilities for a number of key homeland security priorities including Operation In Our Sites. According to a July 2012 DHS press release, 769 domain names have been seized to date under Operation In Our Sites, of which 229 have been forfeited to the federal government.
"Our concern centers on your Department's methods, and the process given, when seizing the domain names of websites whose actions and content are presumed to be lawful, protected speech," the letter states. "We are deeply concerned that ICE and its sister agencies may be failing to properly investigate and prosecute cases brought under the [Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008]."
In their letter to Holder and Napolitano, the members of Congress cite the case of the domain name seizure of a website called Dajaz1, which was taken down by prosecutors working with the operation. In the Dajaz1 case, ultimately, the affidavit on which the seizure was based proved to be inaccurate. Nevertheless, ICE and the Justice Department suppressed the website for more than a year before it was determined there was a lack of probable cause and the seized domain was restored.
"If a website's domain is seized, it needs to be given meaningful due process that comports with the U.S. Constitution and U.S. law," argue the three members of the House Judiciary Committee. "To do otherwise risks unjustly suppressing lawful free speech and devastating legitimate businesses that rely on the seized websites."
Greg Slabodkin is a freelance reporter.
- download the Chaffetz, Lofgren and Polis letter (.pdf)