Monday, 29 November 2010

Internet censorship

The Serious Organised Crime Agency have put forward a proposal to Nominet, the quasi-private body which administers internet domains with the .uk suffix, for an issue group to be established to consider enabling SOCA to cause nominet and its UK ISP members to take down any internet domain on request of "an identified UK Law Enforcement Agency", that is, the police. The proposal can be found here. The proposal would set out the grounds for UK internet service providers to do this without breaching their contracts with their customers, or as the SOCA draftsperson puts it:
"Nominet does not currently have any clear obligation in its registrant Terms and Conditions that a domain name should not be used in connection with any activity that would constitute an offence under UK Criminal law. The group will discuss whether proposals should be put forward to change Nominet’s Terms and Conditions to give a contractual basis to suspend domains where Nominet has reasonable grounds to believe they are being used to commit a crime (e.g. a request from an identified UK Law Enforcement Agency)."
This is a classic misdirection attack. It is hard to argue with the initial proposition that criminally operated internet domains should be taken down where there are "reasonable grounds to believe they are being used to commit a crime", at least where the crimes are serious ones, although the really obnoxious and nasty ones set up masquerading as, say, bank sites which proceed to extract login details for online bank accounts and then loot them, will not operate from a domain formally allocated to the criminals anyway.

But this outwardly reasonable introductory proposition is then followed by the remarkable suggestion that any request from the police for a take-down would, ipso facto, comprise such reasonable grounds: so, no need for any inconvenient independent supervision or validation of such requests by, say, an independent tribunal or court warrant. It could be used to circumvent, for example, what limited protections there are in the previous government's yet-to-be-implemented "three strikes and you are out" copyright infringement proposals for those running a personalised internet domain, since such copyright infringements will often also comprise offences. A letter or telephone call from the police would be enough to get the domain removed from the internet, unless the ISP concerned decides to stand up to the police.

It is highly unlikely that this suggestion will be accepted in the terms in which it is put. It would put UK internet domain purchasers on a similar footing with respect to the police and internet censorship as those in the People's Republic of China. What is surprising is that SOCA thought it appropriate to make this suggestion, and it shows what myopic vision organisations such as this possess.

This illustrates the aphorism that if a state allows the police to dictate public policy, it will end up as a police state.

The link above tells you how to make your views know to Nominet, should you wish to do so.

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