Dozens of sites such as TorrentFinder.com were recently shut down by a Department of Homeland Security investigation. The DHS investigation alleges that these sites, had no legitimate business aside from providing copyrighted material throughout the internet for free. The US investigation was handled through the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency, a part of DHS. The agency’s mission includes the “combat of transnational criminal enterprises who seek to exploit America’s legitimate trade, travel, and financial systems”
The rapid move prompted many online conspiracy theorists to conclude it was a broader plan of seizures of legitimate sites in an attempt to squelch free speech. The move was in fact the equivalent of a virtual “raid” similar to ICE agents obtaining entry into a business suspected of dealing counterfeit goods. A spokeswoman for ICE, Cori W. Bassett, released a statement saying, “ICE office of Homeland Security Investigations executed court-ordered seizure warrants against a number of domain names, as this is an ongoing investigation, there are no additional details available at this time.” The shutdown included a web graphic displayed on the individual targetted domains that also noted, “This domain name has been seized by ICE — Homeland Security Investigations, pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by a United States District Court.”
According to the owner of TorrentFinder.com, his site was siezed without notification. Further, he reports that it was done in a such a way as to completely circumvent his domain host, GoDaddy.com. ICE agents reportedly dealt directly with the ICANN or the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. However, this information has yet to be verified.
Traditionally, ICANN reports it does not “control content on the internet” and does not “deal with access to the internet”. Their role is to simply ensure that each domain name is unique, all users of the internet can find valid addresses and to accredit domain name registrars (such as GoDaddy.com). If ICANN did indeed pull the plug on these sites, it would set a very interesting precedent and possibly be beyond the stated mandate of the international organization. It is however, highly unlikely. ICANN operates the assignment of names and numbers from a position of neutrality, apart from any one countries individual laws. (Such was their reasoning of staying “consistent with the application of neutral, objective, and fair documented policy,” earlier this year when they OK’d the XXX domain after a second review.)
Currently, the controversial Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act is making its way through congress. Critics have noted that the act is too broad and could easily target sites with legitimate business interests. At the present however, ICE seems apt to obtain necessary court orders and aggressively pursue suspected online copyright infringements. Of course, the Torrent user community is already abuzz with a list of new sites that have sprung up to replace the seized domains.