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Verisign Wants Power to Seize Domains: ACLU Says “Not So Fast”

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
Oct/13/2011
Verisign Domain Seizures

In the wake of a number of Internet gambling websites and music downloading website having their domains seized, Verisign has signaled they would like to pursue the policy even further. 

Verisign made a request to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, outlining a new “anti-abuse” policy that would allow the company to terminate, lock, or transfer any domain under its registration jurisdiction under a number of circumstances. And one of those circumstances listed was “requests of law enforcement.”

From Ars Techica:

The request,submitted through ICANN's Registry Services Evaluation Process on October 10, proposes a new malware scanning service for domains as well as a new Verisign Anti-Abuse Domain Use Policy. In the request letter, Verisign stated that its policy would help the registrar align with requirements ICANN is placing on new generic top level domains. “All parts of the internet community are feeling the pressure to be more proactive in dealing with malicious activity,” Verisign explained. “ICANN has recognized this and the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook requires new gTLDs to adopt a clear definition of rapid takedown or suspension systems that will be implemented.”

The request goes beyond malware concerns, noting an intenton“to protect the integrity, security and stability of the DNS; to comply with any applicable court orders, laws, government rules or requirements, requests of law enforcement or other governmental or quasi-governmental agency, or any dispute resolution process; (and) to avoid any liability, civil or criminal, on the part of Verisign, as well as its affiliates, subsidiaries, officers, directors, and employees... Verisign also reserves the right to place upon registry lock, hold or similar status a domain name during resolution of a dispute.”

The online gambling sector as a whole has taken the unusual step to register and use as their primary domains the likes of .EU and .AG (Antigua) extensions, which do not come under the control of the US Government. 

In recent months, the likes of Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Bookmaker have seen their .com domain names seized.  While Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars are alleged to have engaged in money laundering and bank fraud, the oldest established North American-facing online sportsbook, Bookmaker, was found to be in violation of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA), a law many politicians and US-based casino groups are attempting to repeal.  UIGEA is supposed to make it illegal for banks to process credit cards for online gambling companies, yet there are exceptions such as horse racing and state lotteries as well as fantasy football leagues, which make such an unfunded mandate all but impossible to accurately enforce.  It also begs the question:  Will the US Government start seizing the .com domain names of financial institutions found to be processing online gambling transactions.

ACLU Senior Attorney, Aden Fine, told Ars Technica that the "protest procedure" is cause for concern. "The default shouldn't be 'take down first'," he said. "Any time the government is involved in seizing websites, that raises serious First Amendment issues. It doesn't matter if it's a private company pushing the button."

- Chris Costigan, Gambling911.com Publisher

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