In the recent past, Homeland Security has seized a number of domain names without any valid reason whatsoever. And after holding them for a months and at times, years, it handed them back without any apologies. Now, a group of Congress members are demanding an explanation.
The seizures were motivated by suspicions that the domains infringed on intellectual copyrights. In other words, it was the rich U.S. content industry which has been pushing the government to undertake these measures. Apparently, the government has relented to their pressure and has given the Homeland Security a free reign to seize any domains which it may even suspect of containing copyrighted content.
The situation is naturally alarming. By holding the domain names without proving first that they infringed, the Homeland Security is treading on the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
According to a letter sent by the Congress members to the Department of Homeland Security, “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.”
An example in this case is the hip hop website Dajaz1. Homeland Security seized the domain name of the website over ‘allegations’ that it featured copyrighted content. Later, this turned out to be false and after a period of one year, the department simply handed over the domain to the owners. No apologies extended, no damages given.
The even disturbing revelation is that most of such delays are caused simply because the government would then send the content samples to RIAA who would evaluate as to whether or not it infringed copyrights. This can take months and meanwhile, the website owners can say goodbye to their domains.
The good thing is that Congress members finally seem concerned about this. A number of such measures by the government clearly threaten the freedom of speech guaranteed under the First Amendment. And it’s about time the members of the Congress demanded explanations for the draconian laws devised on the behest of the content industry.