J. D. Heyes
Nov 28, 2012
Federal tyranny has begun to spread to the Internet, where authorities apparently believe that there are no such things as constitutional rights in cyberspace.
Without due process and without giving the owners of the websites any opportunity to defend themselves whatsoever, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, along with like-minded European counterparts, have seized control of 132 Internet sites for allegedly selling phony merchandise in what was described as a “coordinated crackdown” timed to coincide with the present holiday shopping season.
It is the third straight year that government agents have essentially stolen websites on what is now called “Cyber Monday” – a marketing term used to describe online shopping the Monday after Thanksgiving – when scores of online retailers offer deep discounts and holiday promotions.
In short, it’s one of their most important times of the year, in terms of selling merchandise.
Increasing tyranny is definitely not just an American problem
The Hill, Congress’ daily newspaper, reported that ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit worked in conjunction with officials in Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania, the United Kingdom and the European Police Office to intercept and take down the sites (no word from U.S. officials yet about how retail websites selling clothing and trinkets are vitally linked to our national security).
“This operation is a great example of the tremendous cooperation between ICE and our international partners at the [Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center],” ICE Director John Morton said. “Our partnerships enable us to go after criminals who are duping unsuspecting shoppers all over the world. This is not an American problem, it is a global one and it is a fight we must win.”
Morton is right about one thing – increasing tyranny is a global problem.
In order to compile their hit list, federal law enforcement agents made “undercover purchases” of products online, buying up DVD players, sports jerseys, jewelry and other goods from sites that were suspected of selling counterfeit products. If the holders of the copyright for the goods told agents the products were not authorized, then ICE got a court order to shut down the sites – no questions asked.
No trial. No jury. Not even a chance for the site owners to explain that maybe they didn’t know what they were buying wasn’t “authorized,” making this nothing less than federal tyranny on the World Wide Web.
When visitors to these sites click on them now, all they see is a banner informing them that the sites have been seized and that copyright infringement is a federal crime (as of this time, ICE has not even released the names of the sites “seized”).
So much for the uniquely American principle of innocent until proven guilty. Notice that the government reserves for itself the right to enforce its laws as it sees fit, but not to perform its equally important (and duly required) function of enforcing laws under the provisions of the Constitution.
“The crackdown, named ‘Cyber Monday 3,’ is part of ICE’s Operation In Our Sites, a program that has now seized a total of 1,630 alleged pirate sites,” The Hill reported.
Treating website owners like drug dealers
Fortunately, at least a few congressional leaders have openly questioned the constitutional due process rights of website owners whose sites have been taken over.
Representing a rare bipartisan coalition, Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wrote a letter to the Obama Administration in August questioning whether enforcement has been overzealous and as such has stifled legitimate speech.
Currently, as the law is written, federal agents have the right to treat website owners like drug dealers.
“Under the current system, the authorities confiscate the websites as asset forfeiture, much like police might seize a drug dealer’s car after arresting him,” The Hill reported.
That said, some legal advocates are – correctly – arguing that website owners ought to have a chance to defend themselves before their livelihoods are taken away from them.
This article was posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 7:05 am