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Shutting down the Internet, once seizure at a time

by danps Sat Dec 4th, 2010 at 07:18:30 AM EST

The Department of Homeland Security recently shut down dozens of web sites.  Their legal authority to do so was questionable, as was the court's, and it is part of a disturbing trend.

For more on pruning back executive power see Pruning Shears.

Civil liberties, executive power

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

Last Friday, deep in the middle of a long holiday weekend, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seized dozens of web sites.  The full list is here, and a common reaction might be "well obviously they were engaged in illegal activity, so they had it coming."  This is an example of what Glenn Greenwald mocked as trial by Wikipedia: the idea that if you bring up a topic which everyone can agree is self-evident, action may be taken without jumping through a whole bunch of tedious legal hoops.

In Greenwald's case he is describing the hit put out for Anwar al-Awlaki by the president.  Supporters of Obama's assassination program protest that al-Awlaki is clearly a bad man - look at his Wikipedia page! - so it should not be necessary for courts to weigh in on the matter.  If enough people who matter ("everyone") simply recognizes this, due process may be disposed of.  Similarly, look at the list of domains seized: who could possibly argue that dvdsetcollection.com is engaged in any kind of legally protected activity?  Why, the very name should be enough to convict!

There are several problems with this, one of which Steven Musil points out in his CNET article: Less than two weeks ago Oregon Senator Ron Wyden effectively killed a bill - the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act - that would have authorized precisely the DHS seizures carried out.  How exactly does the government begin enforcement of a bill that not only has not yet been signed into law, but that is in the process of being actively rejected?

The issue was discussed on CNET's Buzz Out Loud podcast, which provided several of the links used in this post.  Host Molly Wood has a particularly good take on the issue starting around the 10:14 mark; since it is a longish excerpt I have put the transcription after the main body.  In it she references this article questioning the legality of the seizure on several grounds.

For instance, the seizure was announced (via) at Walt Disney Studios.  Does DHS worry at all about seeming a little too cozy with private industry?  With the seemingly endless examples of government officials leaving their posts and cashing in with companies who benefited from their tenure (here is this week's), shouldn't there be at least a gesture in that direction?

Or: ICE went before federal magistrate judges with goods "confirmed as counterfeit or otherwise illegal" in order to obtain the seizure orders.  Did it have goods from each of the eighty-two sites?  In at least one case - TorrentFreak - the site in question does not deal in goods at all.  It provides search results for torrent files, just like Google does.  Is Google going to be seized as well?  Alternately, since it is literally impossible for ICE to have obtained any goods, legal or otherwise, from TorrentFreak, what evidence was presented to the presiding judge?  What was the basis for the ruling?

Business rulings from the courts are starting to deserve much heavier scrutiny.  Aside from the increasingly pro-industry bias of the Supreme Court, there are more and more cases where lower courts give corporations overwhelming preference over individuals.  When a bank can legally engage in activity that would get an ordinary citizen charged with a felony, the legal system is not trustworthy.  When it operates with the mindless corruption of A.C. Soud's rocket docket, there is reason to be openly antagonistic towards it.  The rulings from these magistrate judges do not deserve to be taken at face value or accepted in good faith.  The current environment calls for exactly the opposite.

The very idea of an open Internet is coming under attack.  In addition to the ICE seizures we now have Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski coming out with a regulatory model that does not reclassify broadband as a telecom service.  This will ultimately squeeze both people and companies out of the wireless spectrum; the proposed NBC/Comcast merger threatens to wall off whole swaths of content, and Comcast is already demonstrating its willingness to drive prices higher once its monopoly is secure.  And don't even get me started on this.  Under the circumstances, the ICE seizure represents another volley in the ongoing war to shrink the Internet down to a handful of broad, well lit boulevards, owned by multinationals and lined with security guards.

Molly Wood excerpt from Buzz Out Loud 1359:

Well, and it is an EXTREMELY dangerous precedent to be set.  This is sort of the worst example of intellectual property hysteria, potentially absolutely breaking the entire Internet.  I mean it is just unbelievable. And the weird thing about it is, so it's Homeland Security but it was the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement chief who announced it, I think, and took to the press to talk about American business being under assault from counterfeiters and pirates every day.

Tech Dirt has a pretty good takedown / take apart / teardown of his statement and also some pretty serious questions, which is like, under what legal mandate is a group that's supposed to be focusing on immigration and customs getting involved in taking down web sites?  And why is this a Homeland Security issue, and why isn't there any due process here, and how is this not a violation of free speech to say, "you know what? We believe that at least some of the products on your web site are infringing, so we're going to shut down the expression"?

I mean, it's pretty remarkable, and by the way, has anybody been able to show substantial evidence, because it's my understanding that even the government accounting office has been able to fairly easily take apart the RIAA and the MPAA's claims of financial harm as a result of piracy and say "you know what? You actually don't have any proof of significant losses of the types you have so hysterically claimed in the press."
Back to post

by danps (dan at pruningshears (dot) us) on Sat Dec 4th, 2010 at 07:19:33 AM EST
"The very idea of an open Internet is coming under attack lost."
by asdf on Sat Dec 4th, 2010 at 11:22:20 AM EST
The Internet is a Game-Changing communication medium.  Those who were winning the previous Game, e.g., the US elites, are fundamentally threatened by the new Game.  It would be nice if they would adjust to the new Game instead of trying to throttle it, but that's asking the Moon.

Willy-nilly, the Internet is going to be the basis for an explosion of Creativity leading the world into a different Fitness Landscape.  Those countries embracing this change, as Finland seems to be attempting¹, will thrive.  Countries attempting to maintain the status quo won't.  

(Sometimes this stuff gets Real Simple!  :-)

¹  At least they are making mouthy-mouthy noises of so doing

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Dec 4th, 2010 at 02:50:18 PM EST
WikiLeaks - Mass Mirroring our website

Wikileaks is currently under heavy attack.

In order to make it impossible to ever fully remove Wikileaks from the Internet, we need your help.

if you have a unix-based server which is hosting a website on the Internet and you want to give wikileaks some of your hosting resources, you can help!

Please follow the following instructions:

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Dec 4th, 2010 at 03:38:42 PM EST
Wikileaks.is is working right now.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sat Dec 4th, 2010 at 03:41:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Note that what has been seized are addresses. Good reason not to register pages in the USA (ET might consider getting an .eu and pointing it to the same servers, just for the heck of it).

Now for the beginners: the addresses are not the sites, the name addresses are only a system to get easier names. It is similar to the US seizing the description "the pizza hut at 3rd street" while leaving the restaurant and not interfering with actual customers going to the place, only with people asking directions to "the pizza hut at 3rd street". This can be done because they have registered within the US.

Naturally, countermeasures are on the way:


The domain seizures by the United States authorities in recent days and upcoming legislation that could make similar takeovers even easier in the future, have inspired a group of enthusiasts to come up with a new, decentralized and BitTorrent-powered DNS system. This system will exchange DNS information through peer-to-peer transfers and will work with a new .p2p domain extension.

But yeah, the fact that cat-and-mouse games can and will be played should not detract from the fact that the US has proudly instituted an attempt at censorship.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Dec 4th, 2010 at 03:57:48 PM EST
I'm stocked on popcorn and fizzies. Let the battle begin.

This is looking like the British redcoats marching in formation through the Appalachian forests, and being picked off by squirrel hunters in buckskins, one by one.

I note that one can no longer contribute to Wikileaks by PayPal.

THAT'S Heavy Pressure!!

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Sat Dec 4th, 2010 at 05:24:18 PM EST
The internet has been under relentless attack from business interests and their proxies in Washington for about 15 years and from the intelligence community for about 25 years.

Some of it you just can't make up - I don't have a link but I remember senator Orrin Hatch, one of the more corrupt US senators, stating publicly that he wanted the ability to remotely "zap" (and thus physically destroy) computers that had been "shown" to have copyright infringing material on them. That was around 2003 give or take. The level of hatred for the openness of the internet in Washington is nearly all consuming. It's a natural institutional response - bureaucracies like closed systems. It isn't just a matter of business interests buying politicians.

On the commercial side - from the point of view of consumers who don't want to be thrown in jail for downloading music and have a reasonable expectation of being able to access any website on the internet - I'm not worried. The draconian stuff that continually gets pushed forward in bills written by industries trying to save the old artificial scarcity business models are now limited by the damage that would be done to internet megacorps (amazon, google, MS, Apple etc) - as the latter are now about equal with the former in terms of political influence. Even with this comical mission creep of the DHS shutting down piracy sites for Hollywood - this afternoon I was able to access all my usual torrent sites. It's a "drugs on the table" stage show. It does nothing for Hollywood.

Wikileaks maybe changes things a tiny bit in that there is going to be a little more military / state department / intelligence community pressure and success in going after individuals who threaten their own "business models."

JakeS posted a link on facebook (maybe here as well) that gets into the war / narrative that Assange is fighting. I recommend reading it. Up until now we've been mostly considering internet issues in terms of the dynamic between business interests, consumers, and elected officials; the wikileaks business centers around bureaucracies, the intelligence community, and the rights of citizens. Napster was to the former as wikileaks is to the latter - shutting down either means exactly nothing.

Also note that the NSA already has access to effectively ALL internet traffic. The time to declare the sky was falling in terms of privcy and free spech rights was when this came out in 2006. The wikileaks business is to me just a sign that the catalyst has finally crystallized. I'm surprised this didn't happen a decade ago, it was feasible then.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Dec 4th, 2010 at 09:29:56 PM EST
I should add to the NSA bit that this comes down to the same thing this always comes down to - make sure your government represents you and not itself.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Dec 4th, 2010 at 09:32:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very insightful commentary. I'd just add to the part about the government representing me: I'm not anywhere near normal, and I suspect most of the people populating Eurotrib and the like aren't either.

That's the mastodon in the public square: normal people are so easy to manipulate (Farmville, anyone?), AND aware/alert people who want their civil privileges (I don't call them "rights" anymore) are really so few in number relative to them asses that the democracy we've got is a miracle of jury-rigged responses to greed, as it is.

Our democracy is a few greedy people in power manipulating the masses against the intelligent few. Sounds snooty and elitist, but ain't that the way it goes...

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Sun Dec 5th, 2010 at 01:23:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I do not agree that "normal" people are uninterested in privacy issues, but as everything it takes organisation and lots of hard work to reach a critical mass.

Ta take an example I was involved in, the FRA law

The FRA law (FRA-lagen in Swedish) is a Swedish legislative package that authorizes the state to warrantlessly wiretap all telephone and Internet traffic that crosses Sweden's borders. It was passed by the Parliament of Sweden on June 18, 2008, by a vote of 143 to 138 (with one delegate abstaining and 67 delegates not present)[1] and took effect on January 1, 2009.

It was proposed in 2006 and the Pirate Party campaigned against it in the election campaign, without much success.

In 2007 it was presented to parliament. The Pirate Party ran demonstrations together with all the youth organisations for the parties in parliament. Some media attention. The left party and the greens got the soc-dems to oppose it and in sprig 2007 it was minority tabled for a year.

In the spring of 2008 the Pirate Party continued to campaign against it, focusing on parliamentarians within the majority coalition that had opposed it in the election campaign. Without anything news media considered it uninteresting, but online the campaign got traction and with a month to the decision, fashion blogs and sports blog started to discuss it. Still uninteresting for the media.

On the day of the decision, 2000 people gathered outside parliament. This is a big demonstration in Swedish terms and did get media attention. Party whips ruled the day though, but in the months to come it remained one of the most discussed political questions.

So my impression is that people are in general interested, once the message is there and the organisation to carry it. Takes a lot of work though.

Turning opinion into policy is the next step, and our o so democratic systems are set up to prevent that, but that is another issue.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Dec 5th, 2010 at 10:26:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yes it was a great comment.


Our democracy is a few greedy people in power manipulating the masses against the intelligent few. Sounds snooty and elitist

nice job of internalising the narrative!

what's unreal here is that you feel uncomfortable with  maybe being called elitist, (because you want the greatest good for the greatest number, which if you were elitist, would be a fine case of noblesse oblige, nothing dishonorable at all), when what better example of all the negative ascriptions of 'elite' could you possibly find than a few greedy people in power manipulating the masses against the intelligent?

recognise a double-bind? moral hostaging through semantics...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Dec 5th, 2010 at 11:13:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Melo - I recognize your point, but I've passed it. Quite frankly, I've long ago given up trying to educate them asses, and am just coasting. From the oldest discussions of democracy, it's been recognized that democracy doesn't work.

The USA is NOT a democracy, but a corporate oligarchy. (Islam wants a theocracy that might annoy these rulers.) Hence, War of Civilizations.

I think my first clue about this was a quote by Adlai Stevenson in response to someone in a crowd who yelled out "Mr. Stevenson, all of us intellectuals are with you!" and he quipped "But I need a majority"

Yes, I'm that old. And I've spent my life since then trying to prove him wrong. I haven't. We make much ado about the Chicago School of Economics and Leo Strauss, and his "Noble Lies" but he was right, I think.

Will the internet be shut down? No, but it will become "parlous ground" indeed for the outspoken. (Side note: I participated in Cointelpro in the late 60's, as a victim. They called employers and told them I was "under investigation by the FBI". I was informed of this by two employers, despite their being warned not to do so. Later, I retrieved my filed under FOIA, and sure enough, there it was.)

So maybe I'm cynical and realistic. The government run amok is not just theory to me. Incidentally, the Conspiracy as Governance is an excellent piece of thinking. Sorry if I ramble. It's a privilege of old age.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Mon Dec 6th, 2010 at 03:03:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
WikiLeaks - Mirrors of our website
Wikileaks Mirrors

Wikileaks is currently under heavy attack.

In order to make it impossible to ever fully remove Wikileaks from the Internet, you will find below a list of mirrors of Wikileaks website and CableGate pages.

If you want to add your mirror to the list, see our Mass Mirroring Wikileaks page Mirror List

Wikileaks is currently mirrored on 748 sites (updated 2010-12-07 08:33 GMT)

The mirror I quote is named after the minister of justice in Sweden, right now busy trying to defend the informal cooperation with the US that has been exposed in the cables.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Dec 7th, 2010 at 12:58:27 PM EST

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