In red Russia, the domain takes down you

Call this a case of being careful what you wish for.

I. Robbing the Innocent

That's the message a few renegades in Congress are sending, after the majority of their colleagues pushed for a legislative framework that would granted big media broad taxpayer funded website takedown provisions with neither transparency or clear criteria.  While those efforts failed, the members of Congress who fought the bills are upset that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been actually performing such improper takedowns, even after popular protest (temporarily) shelved the Congressional efforts.

In their letter to the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (Calif.-D), Rep. Jared Polis (Colo.-D), and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah-R) -- members of the House Judiciary Committee -- express concerns that a recent takedown campaign was used to silence free speech and take down perfectly legal websites.

They write, "We are concerned about your Departments' seizure of domain names under Operation In Our Sites, launched in November 2010.  Our concern centers on your Department's methods, and the process given, when seizing the domain names of websites whose actions and content are presumed to be lawful, protected speech."

RIAA police
The DHS followed RIAA orders to seize law-abiding citizens' property and silence their free speech, all without a single trial or hearing. [Image Source: Sodahead]

They offer up the case study of "Dajaz1" -- a hip-hop fan who maintained a music-centric website that on occasion linked to tracks hosted on other websites.  The DHS officers took down the site and seized Dajaz1's domain, claiming he was posting links to infringing content.  But it turned out these were legal tracks (e.g. mixtapes, etc.).

At the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) behest, the domain and page were kept down for over a year, and efforts by Dajaz1's lawyers were blocked.  A year later he finally received his site back, but was not compensated for the police state's suppression of his free speech or seizure of his legal property.  

The incident was made more baffling by the fact that the RIAA claimed to be representing musicians/music labels, yet the musicians/labels in this case were perfectly happy with their work being used on the sites Dajaz1 linked.  And the question remains why the DHS is following RIAA orders so obediently and unquestioningly in the first place, when simple investigation would have revealed the request was abusive.

Comments the Representatives, "Much of Dajaz1's information was lawful, and many of the allegedly infringing links to copyrighted songs, and specifically the links that were the basis of the seizure order, were given to the site's owner by artists and labels themselves."

II. Mission Success?

The DHS ultimately answers to the White House and its so-called "Homeland Security Council".  That means that ultimately President Obama is who is to blame most-directly for these seizures, all though both parties in Congress gave the DHS the tools it needed to carry out that process.

The RIAA and the majority of members of Congress, though seem to think it's a fair bargain to suppress free speech and disenfranchize law-abiding citizens in the name of combatting piracy.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (an enforcement arm of the DHS), though views "Operation in Our Sites" to be a big success, claiming it to have taken down over 750 sites since its 2010 launch -- most of which were verified to be hosting or linking to illegal content.  The latest phase -- Operation Fake Sweep -- landed in February and took down over a dozen illegal sports streaming sites.

However, it's clear that definition of success vary -- to the DHS and its minion agencies even if a few innocent men and women have their rights robbed from them and are financially harmed, it's worth it to battle the nebulous specter of "piracy".  But the Congressional letter writers aren't so willing to call that police state policy a "success" by their criteria.

Of course Reps. Lofgren (D), Polis (D), and Chaffetz (R) may be in the minority, both in the Congress at large and within their own parties.  The three reps were among only 31 Senators or Representatives to publicly oppose the Orwellian "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA) (H.R. 3261) in the House and "PROTECT IP Act" (PIPA) (S.968) in the Senate. By contrast 80 of their colleagues supported that bill -- which called for similar punitive takedowns -- before some eventually scurried off the ship amid mass public derision.

Source: Rep. Lofgren [PDF]

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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