Are you ready to hear something crazy? An official from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is claiming that they can call for the owners of .com or .net addresses to be extradited to the U.S. for a breach of copyright. This extradition can apparently be called for even if the website has no connection to the U.S. and even if there is no copyrighted material being directly hosted on the domain.
The ICE official who made that statement was Eric Barnett, Assistant Deputy Director. Barnett’s statement was made to the UK’s Guardian newspaper and specifically said that website owners with .com or .net addresses could face extradition to the U.S. even if the activity they are performing is legal in the UK. That would mean anyone who owned a .com or .net address that so much as linked to copyrighted material could face extradition.
So exactly what is Barnett basing this claim on? Barnett claims that bases for this type of prosecution is that these specific addresses are routed through Verisign, a Virginia based company and owner of American Internet infrastructure. The specific quote by Barnett reads,
“The jurisdiction we have over these sites right now really is the use of the domain name registry system in the United States. That’s the key.”
The comments by Barnett are related to the case to extradite Richard O’Dwyer, the owner of TVShack.net. O’Dwyer’s website cataloged links to non-licensed TV shows and movies. O’Dwyer is claiming the site had no connection to the U.S. and the only servers it ran through were ones based in Britain. No copyrighted material was actually hosted at TVShack.net, only links, but ICE still wants O’Dwyer extradited and Barnett is trying to justify that with his recent statements.
If O’Dwyer is extradited to the U.S. based on Barnett’s claims of all .com and .net addresses being registered by Verisign, it would set a huge and worrisome precedent. This would mean ICE could target anyone, in any country, for simply linking to copyrighted material as long as their web address ended in .com or .net. That seems to be a far reaching, and dangerous power for the US government to have.