An open letter to Nominet regarding seizure of "criminal" domains

I discovered today that the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has issued a proposal that Nominet's terms and conditions be changed so that they are contractually obliged to “suspend domains where Nominet has reasonable grounds to believe they are being used to commit a crime”. On the face of it this seems like a good idea, as there are an ever increasing number of sites out on the internet serving up viruses, attempting to steal confidential information, and so on. As with many things though, I suspect the devil is in the details.

Nominet's example of “reasonable grounds” for suspension of a domain is “a request from an identified UK Law Enforcement Agency”. No mention is made of a formal procedure, judicial oversight or appeals. I'm not saying that these things won't be included in the final version of the policy, but I suspect that if the choice were left to SOCA then they wouldn't bother, as it's less red tape for them to deal with.

Unfortunately, time has repeatedly shown that these kind of measures are open to abuse when there isn't a formal, transparent legal process. The controversy surrounding the IWF's child pornography blacklist (e.g. the Wikipedia incident), along with censorship/seizure of websites in Denmark, Australia and the USA illustrates this, to say nothing of blocked websites in less free countries such as Iran, Turkey and China. For this reason, I have written to Nominet about the policy and I urge you to do the same. The text of my message appears below, you're welcome to use it yourself although I suggest you personalise it rather than just copying and pasting it as is.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing in response to the proposal by SOCA that Nominet change its Terms and Conditions to provide a contractual basis for suspending domains suspected of criminal use.

As I and my colleagues see it, our support of the proposal hinges on the interpretation of "reasonable grounds" for suspicion of criminal use of a domain. If suspension is *only* allowed on the basis of a publicly issued, judicially reviewed warrant, including notification to the domain owner and a formal appeals process, then we are not opposed to the measure. If, however, suspension of a domain name is allowed following nothing more an informal "request from an identified UK Law Enforcement Agency", or if there is no notification to the registered domain owner or any appeals process, then we are vehemently opposed. Judicial oversight is essential to maintain fairness. Without it the system is too open to abuse.


Nominet have a page on this policy here. The Register have an article about it here.

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