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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Another Homeland Security Overreach: DHS Starts Seizing Websites

Original post by Mike Flynn...

The always interesting Business Insider has this report:

    The Department of Homeland Security’s ICE has launched a major crackdown on websites enabling copyright infringement or selling counterfeits of trademarked goods. In just the past few days ICE has seized at least 12 domains, TorrentFreak reports.

Okay, so each of the domains seized is probably breaking the law. Knowingly violating someone’s copyright is rightfully against the law. I don’t know anything about these sites, but, for now, I’ll assume they were selling knock-off goods as the real thing and not as some kind of faux Louis Vuitton. Still, this part of the article bothers me:

    "The owner of an affected site told TorrentFreak that his domain was taken over without any prior complaints or notification from the court."

So, the sites were seized before the site’s owner heard any charges or had the chance to submit any counter evidence in court. The owners of the sites had their property seized without being allowed to defend themselves. I successfully avoided law school, so I don’t know the exact legal term, but this strikes me as an overstep in their enforcement authority.

But, the article begs an even bigger question: What the hell do fake Guccis have to do with homeland security?

I can appreciate that trafficking in fake goods and music piracy inflict substantial economic harm on the branded companies and labels. But, I do appreciate also that this has nothing to do with protecting the country from foreign or domestic terrorists. We still have a Justice Department, right?

In fact, the article notes that Congress hasn’t given this authority to the Attorney General:

    "A controversial bill that would allow the Attorney General to shut down domains on similar grounds was recently derailed (temporarily) by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden."

The Attorney General is the chief enforcer of federal law and, accordingly, is responsible for enforcing federal copyright protections. And, he doesn’t have the authority that Homeland Security is asserting for itself.

This goes to the heart of why I strongly opposed the creation of DHS when first proposed. Like its contemporaneous legislation, the Patriot Act, it wasn’t so much the specifics of the proposal, but what it would eventually evolve into that bothered me.  Bureaucracies may seem to live in their own ecosystem, but they operate largely like any other business, i.e. they try to grow. Unfortunately for us, the way bureaucracies grow is to issue more regulations and assert ever more authority over parts of our life.

In the aftermath of 9-11, when the creation of DHS was being debated, would your opinion have been swayed if you knew that, within just a few years, the proposed agency would be seizing websites peddling fake purses? Did you imagine that the proposed agency would soon demand to take naked photographs of randomly-selected U.S. citizens? Or, insist on its authority to physically grope children?

Now, ask yourself this: What will the Agency be doing 10 years from now? Or, 20? In a little more than half a decade, DHS has morphed from protecting us from terrorists to protecting us from fake merchandise. Who is going to protect us from DHS?

10:44 am est          Comments

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