You may have heard that ICE (that’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has seized several domains that it believes are related to piracy. I’m not sure why ICE is doing the seizure, as compared to, say, the DOJ or DHS. I have conspiracy theories I can spin about border exceptions, but they’re kinda paranoid, and I want to reserve my paranoia for twitter, where I’m stuck with 140 characters.
(Okay, fine. I’ll be paranoid on my blog: one possibility why ICE is involved is that the people who ran these domain names are outside the US. The theory would be that we can then seize their stuff without due process–yay border/noncitizen exceptions! This is so paranoid on my part that I’m almost ashamed to write it. I don’t want to believe my government just claimed that it had a right to censor any internet site outside the United States, and that noncitizens don’t have a right to bitch about it. I so want my paranoia on this to be just paranoia, because otherwise we are so far into 1984 territory that I want to vomit.)
In any event, needless to say, I hate this. I don’t understand how this is not the very definition of a prior restraint–that is, blocking someone from speaking and then subsequently requiring them to prove that their speech is okay. Free speech 101: This is prima facie intolerable. This wasn’t even thinkable in 1792. How are we thinking it today?
This isn’t how we swing here in the United States. We believe in being innocent before being proven guilty. If these guys are copyright infringers, by all means prosecute them in federal court and seize the domain names upon conviction. But I just cannot possibly fathom a world in which someone thinks it is okay for the federal government to shut down a website and literally block free speech without first obtaining a conviction or providing an opportunity for defense.
Gosh. It just seems so much less totalitarian to fight piracy with books that are easy to access and download worldwide, and which are reasonably priced. Or, failing that, to fight piracy like every other crime: with the rule of law.