While the folks at Homeland Security keep telling me that they simply cannot speak publicly about the seizure of various domain names — and specifically the numerous mistakes they’ve made that appear to clearly violate both the First Amendment and Due Process rules — it seems they have no problem talking about the domain seizures to folks in the press who don’t bother to ask tough questions.
ICE boss John Morton did an interview with Politico, where he trots out a bunch of highly questionable statements about the domain seizures, including claiming that it’s all okay for them to do this because they’re trying to “protect U.S. industry” rather than “regulate the internet.” But that’s not the role of Homeland Security or ICE. And there are limits on what ICE is actually allowed to do, and Morton’s technically clueless agents seem to have ignored many of those rules.
“We don’t have any interest in going after bloggers or discussion boards,” he said. “We’re not about what is being said by anybody. We’re about making sure that the intellectual property laws of the United States, which are clear, are enforced. When somebody spends hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the next movie or a billion dollars to develop the next heart medicine, the innovation and the enterprise that went into that effort is protected as the law provides. It’s that simple.”
There’s so much wrong in that statement that it should be grounds for dismissal. Morton is not representing what has happened, the law or the facts accurately here. He’s lying to the American public (and to Politico, who appears to have failed to call him on any of it). First of all, if they don’t have any interest in going after bloggers or discussion boards, why did they? Second, if the intellectual property laws of the US are “clear” — why did ICE not use them and actually get anyone charged with infringement? Third, the laws aren’t that clear — which is why we (normally) have trials to make sure there was actual infringement. If ICE had been willing to let due process play out, it would have avoided embarrassing mistakes, like taking down 84,000 websites because a few may have had illegal content. Or seizing a blog (yes, a blog, despite what he says) that posted links to music elsewhere that was sent by the labels and artists. And, when someone spends all that money to develop something, there are plenty of business models for them to use, and they have every right to use civil laws to go after those who violate their rights. What they shouldn’t have is some government agents taking down websites with no due process, seizing plenty of protected speech in the process.
Finally, for Morton to claim “it’s that simple,” when the law is anything but simple should get the man fired. Seriously. No one who knows anything about the law thinks it’s that simple. He shouldn’t be in charge of ICE if he thinks that the laws are as simple as he makes out. It’s not, and either he knows it and he’s lying or he doesn’t know it and he’s unqualified for the job. Which is it? I figure I’ll send these questions to my friendly press contact at Homeland Security, and I imagine the answer will be the same: “I’ll have to direct you to the Justice Department on those questions.” Because actually responding to American citizens whose rights he seems to have no problem trampling is not in his job description. Helping Hollywood by violating multiple parts of the Constitution is much more fun.
Morton also seems to think there’s simply no legal questions in seizing domain names:
“We can seize and forfeit them just like we seize and forfeit bank accounts, houses and vehicles that are used in other crimes,” he said. “Any instrument of a crime is subject to our jurisdiction in terms of seizure and forfeit.”
Again this is incorrect on a number of levels, and again raises questions about Morton’s competence to hold the job he holds. You can seize property, but the case law is pretty clear on the different rules when it comes to seizing speech. And he’s never responded to that at all. Because, of course, he cannot.
John Morton seems to think it’s fine to be censor-in-chief and to violate multiple parts of the US Constitution, because it protects a few businesses who have failed to adapt their business models. This is a sickening display of the takeover of the American government by corporations.