If a website violates U.S. Federal or a state law, the government has the ability to have that site taken down. It can do this with any .com, .org., .net, .you-name-it. Although this capability may not be anything new, EasyDNS -- an Internet infrastructure company -- says the “ramifications of this are no less than chilling."
That statement comes as, just last week, the Canadian-based gambling site Bodog.com was shutdown due to violations of U.S. gambling laws. So, as Wired's Threat Level explains, many domain names are not safe -- even those of foreign websites -- if "the companies that have the contracts to administer them are based on United States soil." Wired reports that many .com et al domain names are held in contracts with a U.S.-based company called Verisign. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, Nicole Navas, told Wired that in cases where websites are selling counterfeit products or streaming music or movies illegally, the government would serve Verisign with a court order to remove the website. Seizures such as this have taken place about 750 times under Operation in Our Sites, which seeks to preserve intellectual property rights and protect consumers.
Here's what Verisign had to say about this situation to Wired:
“VeriSign responds to lawful court orders subject to its technical capabilities,” the company said in a statement. “When law enforcement presents us with such lawful orders impacting domain names within our registries, we respond within our technical capabilities.”
VeriSign declined to entertain questions about how many times it has done this. It often complies with U.S. court orders by redirecting the DNS (Domain Name System) of a domain to a U.S. government IP address that informs online visitors that the site has been seized (for example, ninjavideo.net.)
“Beyond that, further questions should be directed to the appropriate U.S. federal government agency responsible for the domain name seizure,” the company said.
EasyDNS explains further that this type of seizure is what has many concerned about Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA):
Even though SOPA is currently in limbo, the reality that US law can now be asserted over all domains registered under .com, .net, org, .biz and maybe .info (Afilias, [ which operates .info domains,] is headquartered in Ireland by operates out of the US).
This is no longer a doom-and-gloom theory by some guy in a tin foil hat. It just happened.
The ramifications of this are no less than chilling and every single organization branded or operating under .com, .net, .org, .biz etc needs to ask themselves about their vulnerability to the whims of US federal and state lawmakers (not exactly known their cluefulness nor even-handedness, especially with regard to matters of the internet).
Wired states that since SOPA and PIPA are on hold and therefore the U.S. government does not have a means to prevent Americans from visiting websites under domains that are not operated within the U.S., some sites are switching over. For example, the file sharing site The Pirate Bay recently switched from a .org, which is run by a U.S. company, to a .se, which is a Swedish host.
In a separate blog post, EasyDNS explains that the Internet is at a tipping point when it comes to the government seeking to control some aspects of the Web and other sites pushing privacy boundaries:
"between government initiatives to impose control on the Internet and the larger behemoths within it (Google, Facebook, Twitter) unveiling new (anti)privacy policies to play ball, we seem to be headed into that crucial inflection point where we, as a society decide if the internet will continue to be the great liberator, empowerment tool, and economic elixir that is has been thus far, or if it will become the ultimate surveillance machine. I doubt it can be both."