The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has received a great deal of backlash for their actions of seizing tens of thousands of domains over the past year, and accusing site owners of counterfeiting, piracy, and ,most recently, engaging in child pornography. Even a US Senator has pointed out that these actions may violate the constitutional rights of site owners affected, however ICE Director John Morton continues to defend the domain seizures as a noble effort to protect Americans.
“Often we get the criticism that we’re trying to infringe on free speech, regulate the Internet – nothing can be further from the truth,” Morton told Politico in an interview this week. “We have no interest in regulating the Internet. We have no responsibility in doing that; we’re a law enforcement agency. We investigate crimes and try to deter criminal activity. We’re trying to protect the rights of American consumers, American manufacturers,” Morton claims.
Morton points out that websites are “property” that the government has the right to seize when evidence of a crime is revealed.
“We can seize and forfeit them just like we seize and forfeit bank accounts, houses and vehicles that are used in other crimes,” he said. “Any instrument of a crime is subject to our jurisdiction in terms of seizure and forfeit.”
Morton also states that the domain seizures are not a tool to censor websites, but to simply enforce copyright laws.
“We don’t have any interest in going after bloggers or discussion boards. We’re not about what is being said by anybody. We’re about making sure that the intellectual property laws of the United States, which are clear, are enforced,” He said. “When somebody spends hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the next movie or a billion dollars to develop the next heart medicine, the innovation and the enterprise that went into that effort is protected as the law provides. It’s that simple.”
While Morton may view his agency’s domain seizures simply as a tool to uphold the law, I’m quite certain that the domain owners who have been forced to wait months for information about why their operations were shut down are not convinced of the nobility of the cause. Nor are those who were wrongly accused of harboring child pornography last month. Despite the agency’s best intentions to uphold the safety of Americans, it is also their duty to preserve the rights of Americans. These domain seizure processes need to be reviewed and appropriately overhauled before more mistakes are made and more innocent people are affected.