Feds Try to Make the Shopping Season a Little Safer

Sue Marquette Poremba
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Emerging Cyber Threats for 2012

During the craziness of the holiday season, it's good to keep your sense of humor, much like the leading paragraph of a Gawker article I saw that pointed out how the mean old government is preventing shoppers from purchasing all of our fake brand names online. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) teamed up again this year to take down over 130 domain names in a crackdown to protect consumers and legitimate businesses from online piracy and counterfeiting. As Gawker so bluntly put it:

Why? Because they want your family's holiday gift-giving experience to be authentic.

This is not the first time the DOJ and ICE have gone after domain names; they did so before the 2010 Cyber Monday event, with some success, and repeated the effort before the Super Bowl earlier this year.

Last year, after the mass takedown, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that intellectual property crimes are not victimless, according to the TorrentFreak blog. Going after these rogue sites is a move that legitimate businesses everywhere should applaud.

TorrentFreak, which lists all of the domains that were taken down, mentioned that the domain seizures are a little different this year than in the past. This time the action appears to be limited to sites that directly charge visitors for their services. Most of the domains are linked to the selling of counterfeit clothing (e.g. 17nflshop.com), and at least one (autocd.com) sold pirated auto software.

However, in an attempt to protect consumers from purchasing fake or pirated items and to protect the business interests of legitimate retailers, there are some serious questions about the government's tactics in taking down these domains. According to CNET:

The seized domains are presumably registered in the United States. To justify the takedowns of domestically registered domains from a legal standpoint, the U.S. government has been using 2008's PRO IP Act to invoke "civil forfeiture" laws. Such laws let the government grab "property" used in the commission of certain crimes--without ever having to get a conviction for the crime itself.

Yes, someone took the government to court over the seizure, and the court ruled in the government's favor. I'm sure that won't be the last time this issue finds its way into court.

But I'm in favor of the government taking steps to protect businesses that sell a legitimate product. Now, I hope it will also go after those who purchase a domain name to typosquat with the intent to scam and steal.

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