Non-profit UK domain registry Nominet helps seize 3,000 websites

Nominet, a UK-based company responsible for that country’s web domain registry and in turn with aiding authorities with internet-based investigations into illicit activities, helped in the closure of around 3,000 websites according to several news outlets.

While not a perfect comparison, the news bears a similarity to recent ICE/Department of Justice domain seizures, eliciting fears over censorship and lack of due process from some.

Non-profit UK domain registry Nominet helps seize 3,000 websites

Nominet and police are under scrutiny for the closure of thousands of websites without a proper, transparent process. The handling of domain seizures in the UK has sparked concern over just how far the police can go with such actions and whether the government might use the methods for censorship — accidental or otherwise.

UK news site The Telegraph reports members of the registry group met with police officials on Monday to discuss the creation of a system that would grant them the ability to close domains without Nominet’s aid. Furthermore, the site uncovered a message that illustrated law enforcers’ resistance to “the creation of a fixed category of offenses.” If new forms of criminal activity sprout up online, the message suggests, previously set restrictions would only hinder the ability to counter it.

Open Rights Group, a non-profit organization of digital rights crusaders, sat in on the meeting. Despite the bulk of the closures targeting sites dealing in counterfeit property, ORG worries that Nominet could easily be turned into a government tool wielded against legitimate sites for illegitimate reasons.

“The danger is in the immense power Nominet wields over domains. Any domain can technically be suspended, making Nominet an easy target for law enforcement authorities to cut out the hard work and get a quick result,” opines Jim Killock on ORG’s official blog. “Worse still, law enforcement agencies appear to have been arguing to Nominet and others that they are liable under the Proceeds of Crime Act if they do not suspend sites once they are made aware that criminal acts may be taking place on domains.”

While not against seizure in the case of something obviously criminal or “very nasty,” ORG believes such seizures should be the exception, not the rule.

“Domains are generally regarded as people’s property. Seizing a domain is an incredibly serious thing, potentially disrupting people’s businesses and livelihoods, as well as their freedom of expression. Doing this without due process infringes on another fundamental right. The default position must surely be that court orders be required.”

In February, the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) shutdown over 84,000 sites in the name of fighting child pornography. Later it was discovered that the agency’s action had collateral damage: many affected sites had nothing to do with kiddie porn and were closed accidentally, sparking disgust and criticism from internet rights advocates.

Killock remains optimistic, however: “These discussions represent a serious step forward.” (via TechDirt)