Senator Ron Wyden denounces ICE domain seizures & COICA

Back in early February, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden sent an extensive letter to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) Director John Morton outlining his concerns and asking questions regarding the legality and implications of the process officials have used to seize allegedly infringing web domains over the past year. He has yet to receive a response to that inquiry, but made it clear in a new interview this week that he is not backing down.

“Look, we don’t dispute that there is a serious problem with respect to counterfeiting, IP issues, piracy, and the like.” Wyden told Ars Technica’s Nate Anderson. “But until there is a bright line about what constitutes the distribution of infringing content and some of these other issues, the government ought to stop seizing websites that allegedly distribute infringing goods.“

Senator Ron Wyden denounces ICE domain seizures & COICA

That grey area has caused a widespread debate over whether search engines like Torrent-Finder should be liable for content that isn’t even housed on their servers. And if they are, what about the major search engines like Google? Will the US begin censoring Yahoo as Italy has decided to do?

“Most reasonable Internet experts are telling us that linking itself cannot be illegal—but we’ve still got ICE out there saying, ‘Let’s prosecute folks for linking.’ That’s another issue that needs to be resolved.” Wyden stated. “I’m not convinced that a blogger or search engine that provides a link to where infringed content could be is distribution, so there needs to be some tighter definitions about what a rogue website is.”

Wyden also expressed concern that the legal system of checks and balances would not exist if the government hands over policing of the internet to private organizations.

“Only law enforcement ought to be authorized to take action against websites,” Wyden said. “Congress currently serves as a check on law enforcement’s actions. We provide the financing and, if Congress thinks law enforcement is going too far, then we can go out and do something about that. The government’s accountable to taxpayers; now we’re talking about giving this kind of authority to movies and to Universal Studios and people like that. I don’t think that Congress can risk giving the content industry power that cannot be easily checked.”

Regarding the revival of COICA, Wyden said that “it’s important to not increase liability for intermediaries. Just as you don’t hold a toll road accountable for a driver’s bad behavior, you shouldn’t hold the ISPs or other platforms liable for online user behavior… It’s not the private sector’s responsibility to conduct law enforcement on the ‘Net.”

“If the new version of COICA is like last year’s version of COICA, I will do everything in my power to block it,” he promised.

It’s unfortunate that Senator Wyden and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren seem to be in a minority of government officials who believe that there is anything wrong with the way domain seizures are currently being handled. Hopefully, these two will keep voicing their concerns and can create enough awareness to preserve the rights of US citizens.

There were many more great points made by Wyden during his conversation with Nate Anderson. I highly recommend checking out the rest of the interview over at Ars Technica.