“Operation In Our Sites” Will Continue Seizing Domains

ICE director John Morton has confirmed that the seizure of domain names that are alleged to be promoting copyright infringement will continue in the coming years. In a statement before the U.S. House of Representatives, Morton said that "Operation In Our Sites" will continue through and beyond 2011. In addition and contrary to popular belief, Morton claimed that the seizures "respect free speech" and "provide due process."

seizureThe US Government is currently considering new legislation to tackle online piracy. As part of this ongoing effort the House of Representatives organized a hearing titled “Promoting Investment and Protecting Commerce Online: Legitimate Sites v. Parasites, Part II.”

Described by some people as “a parade of strawmen” the hearing focused heavily on Google, and how the search engine should be the one to ensure that online piracy no longer poses a problem. However, a speaker that also delivered some interesting statements was ICE director John Morton, who has been leading the seizures of piracy-related domain names in the past several months.

In his witness testimony Morton explained in detail how more than 100 domains were seized in four separate rounds, starting in June of last year. While omitting to mention that many of the sites simply continued under different domains, Morton said that the seizure banners have led to “public education about pirating” as they had received 38 million hits since the start of the operation.

Another statement of interest from the ICE director is that Operation In Our Sites is here for the long haul. Despite the critique from journalists, activists and politicians, the US Government will continue to seize domains in the future.

“The Operation In Our Sites initiative will continue through 2011 and beyond. ICE’s efforts through this operation successfully disrupt the ability of criminals to purvey copyrighted materials illegally over the internet,” Morton testified.

“In addition to the domain names that are seized through this operation, evidence suggests that the operation has a deterrent effect. In fact, following Operations In Our Sites v. 1.0, ICE was notified that 81 of the most active websites that had been offering pirated material voluntarily shut down,” the ICE director added.

The rest of Morton’s statement appears to be an effort to justify the domain seizure procedures, directly responding to the many constitutional questions that were posed, in particular the claimed absence of due process.

“Operation In Our Sites was developed with the Department of Justice to respect free speech, to provide due process, and to work within the statutory framework provided to us by Congress. Domain names seized under Operation In Our Sites are seized only in furtherance on ongoing criminal investigations into violations of U.S. federal laws.”

Although ICE’s definition of due process appears to differ from that preferred by their critics, Morton gave four examples of how domain owners can attempt to get them back after a seizure. However, in reality this turns out to be more problematic than ICE claims it is.

The owner of Torrent-Finder, one of the seized domains, told TorrentFreak that his options are rather limited since he can not rely on “constitutional rights” as an Egyptian. He appealed the seizure from the very start, in November of last year, but thus far the case is moving very slowly.

Overall, ICE believes that the current way of dealing with domains that are possibly connected to copyright infringement is the best option they have. Morton said that based on “tips from industry representatives” among others, they will continue to seize domains that are deemed to support online piracy.

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