Over the past four years Homeland Security’s ICE division has seized thousands of domains as part of Operation in Our Sites, an initiative set to celebrate its fourth birthday in a couple of weeks’ time. More recently, however, the momentum has shifted to PIPCU, the City of London’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit.
The unit’s most recent and high-profile action was taken against Torrentz.eu, the world’s largest torrent meta-search engine. Despite the site complying with takedowns (clear evidence of which can be seen on the site where dozens of results are marked as deleted by rightsholders), PIPCU approached Torrentz’s registrar requesting a domain suspension.
The company complied, but the effect was only temporary. Confronted with legal argument that the suspension was unlawful, the Torrentz domain was soon operational again.
While it’s easy to see how this kind of result undermines the credibility of the police, there are other considerations too. According to the registry responsible for Iceland’s top-level .IS domain, suspensions of this kind target the wrong area.
“Domains can hardly be considered illegal any more than a street address. A street address is not illegal even if there is illegal activity in one apartment at the address,” ISNIC says.
“When a domain is suspended the website or the content itself is not, as became apparent when torrentz.eu was suspended. A suspension of a domain does not lead to a total blocking of the website it points to.”
However, while content may indeed remain available (or in the case of Torrentz, links to other sites, that carry links, that link to content), suspensions still have the ability to disrupt other services associated with a website that are outside the realms of the initial dispute.
“Disruption of email communication and service, unrelated to the website that is meant to be closed, is utterly unnecessary and unacceptable in these instances,” ISNIC explains.
“A suspension of a domain is in a way comparable to banning the use of an address of an apartment building depriving everyone at that particular address of their postal service. Additionally, the suspension of individual domains can affect other domains, specially in the situation when domain service is a registered subdomain.”
Furthermore, according to the registry the counter-productive effects of domain seizures aren’t limited simply to the technical realm. Perceptions that seizures are unjust persist not only among visitors to the affected domains but also the wider Internet, damaging the reputations of targeted TLDs in the process.
“It should be noted that when registries and registrars are made to suspend domains it can create negative publicity within the internet community, harming the top-level domain and reducing its credibility,” ISNIC says.
“It is difficult to rectify that sort of damage that easily could be avoided with increased awareness and proficiency of the technical workings of the internet.”
It’s worth noting that to date, all attempts at seizing or suspending .IS domains have failed.
“ISNIC has never shut down a domain in response to external requests,” ISNIC’s Björn Róbertsson informs TorrentFreak. “ISNIC however does place domains on hold and automatically re-delegates to parking in case of technical issues – but ISNIC has strict technical requirements for DNS server setup.”
Perhaps finding comfort in this kind security, earlier this month Putlocker.bz moved to an Icelandic domain following pressure from City of London Police. While a court order could potentially force ISNIC to take action against a domain such as this, to date the registry hasn’t been included in any disputes.
“In case of a court order, the court order would have to be addressed directly to Internet á Íslandi hf. [ISNIC] not to the Registrant. That has never happened,” Róbertsson says.
“Icelandic court orders [regarding domain disputes] have always been addressed to the registrant, and ordered him to stop using or/and to delete the domain.”
In addition to its stance on seizures, Iceland also has a great reputation in respect of privacy, something which prompted Kim Dotcom to announce that the Mega file-storing service could relocate there if local legislation compromises the company’s users.
Whether there will be mass Icelandic domain migrations in the future remains to be seen, but the signs are that the ISNIC registry will put up a fight at the very least, something registrars elsewhere have failed to do.