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The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It began in 2003 after a merging of the investigative and interior enforcement elements of the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It now has offices in all 50 states and 47 foreign countries.
Its primary mission is "to promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration."
Since June 2010, IOS has seized 1,630 domain names selling counterfeit goods on the internet. Of the 1,529 seized prior to 2012, 684 have been forfeited to the U.S. government. These seizures are carried out under Operation In Our Sites, headed by The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington, D.C., to target websites that distribute counterfeit and pirated goods over the internet.
In November 2012, the ICE, along with European law enforcement agencies and Europol, seized 132 domain names on the 2012 Cyber Monday shopping holiday, in what were called operation Project Cyber Monday 3 and Project Transatlantic. This marked the third year that the IPR Center has targeted similar operations during this time. 2012 was the first year that overseas law enforcement agencies have been involved in the matter. 101 of the domain names seized were registered with a United States registry, but 31 were seized from the .eu, .be, .dk, .fr, .ro, and .uk ccTLDs.
After the seizure, the domain names were in the custody of the governments involved; any websites visited by users were forwarded to government servers educating them about the crime of willful copyright infringement.
Criticisms & Challenges
In September 2012, three Congressmen -- Zoe Lofgren, Jared Polis, and Jason Chaffetz, quizzed DHS regarding Operation In Our Sites, stating that "if a website's domain is seized, it needs to be given meaningful due process that comports to the US Constitution and US law".
There are few cases in which websites seized by the ICE have fought back. Dajaz1.com, a hip-hop website, was wrongfully seized by the ICE for copyright. The ICE had postponed the case multiple times while awaiting information from the RIAA, which never came. It was discovered that the ICE had listed infringing songs which had actually been supplied to the website directly from musicians and labels. More than a year since the initial seizure, the website was returned; ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein told Ars Technica that "the government concluded that the appropriate and just result was to decline to pursue judicial forfeiture."
In August 2011, the Spanish TV download website RojaDirecta had its .com and .org domains seized despite the fact that Spanish courts had ruled its services as legal. It was eventually returned after the company, Puerto 80, hired US lawyers to assert that the seizure had been illegal, as the website was full of user-generated content and the law covered only direct infringement, not the linking of videos. Its attorneys also argued that a the seizure left the company without a chance to properly defend itself. A federal judge did not rule the loss of the domain names as a "substantial hardship", as the business retained control of its servers and switched to alternate domain names like rojadirecta.me and rojadirecta.es. The case was dropped by the US government on August 29th, 2012, "as a result of certain recent judicial authority involving issues germane to the above-captioned action" and "in light of the particular circumstances of this litigation."
- Overview, ICE.gov.
- ICE, European law enforcement agencies and Europol seize 132 domain names selling counterfeit merchandise in 'Project Cyber Monday 3' and 'Project Transatlantic' operations, ICE.gov. Published 26 November 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
- ICE Seizes 132 Domains & This Time Its Global, Not Just .Com & .Net, TheDomains.com. Published 26 November 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
- Operation In Our Sites, ICE.gov.
- Congressmen quiz ICE over domain seizures, DomainIncite.com. Published 3 September 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
- Government admits defeat, gives back seized Rojadirecta domains, ArsTechnica.com. Published 29 August 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
- ICE admits year-long seizure of music blog was a mistake, ArsTechnica.com. Published 8 December 2011. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
- Judge says domain name loss is not a "substantial hardship", ArsTechnica. Published 5 August 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2012.