UK police seek authority to shut down ‘criminal’ domains

uk-police-authority-shut-domainsThe UK’s Serious and Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) has asked Nominet, the company that controls the and .uk domain registry, for the authority to shut down domains engaged in what law enforcement agencies consider criminal activities.

SOCA’s proposal would have Nominet change its terms and conditions to mirror that of .org and .biz, which already require domain owners to ensure their site will not be used for criminal purposes. Once Nominet has revised its policy, SOCA need only provide ‘reasonable grounds to believe [domains] are being used to commit a crime’ and Nominex would pull the plug.

Despite being under no current legal requirement to do so, Nominex has cooperated with police requests of this nature in the past. Last December, at the request of the Metropolitan Police Central eCrime Unit (but without any judicial oversight), Nominet shut down 1,219 domains said to be hawking knock-off designer gear.

Nominet’s legal eagle Nick Wenban-Smith justified the move by saying he’d uncovered ‘false’ or ‘out of date for some reason’ data on the 1,219 sets of paperwork, but admitted that cutting the domains loose had been ‘a truncated process.’

SOCA’s proposal comes just weeks after the Met Police convinced a website hosting service to cut off Fitwatch, an anti-police blog. Following the recent protest/riot against tuition fee hikes outside the Conservative party’s Milbank headquarters, Fitwatch offered a plan of action for students worried that the police may now be looking for them. When police saw that Fitwatch was advising students to (amongst other things) rid themselves of any clothing worn the day of the protest and get ‘a makeover’ (it is Movember, after all), the police asked web hosts to yank Fitwatch off the air, and JustHost complied. However, Fitwatch’s instructions were immediately distributed via social media and the site was soon back up and running on a different server outside the UK.

Nominet’s director of operations Eleanor Bradley was quick to remind everyone that SOCA’s proposal isn’t policy… yet. There’s no timetable for discussion or adoption or anything. In any case, they’ll first want to gather ‘a balanced group of stakeholders’ to hash things out over a cuppa and a biscuit or two. And of course they’ll invite the public to comment. And then, finally, they’ll get back to doing what they intended to do all along.