It appears from this news item that Nominet, the official registration authority for .uk internet domains, has been secretly taking down web sites by withdrawing domain names, and they have been doing so solely at the request of the police serious crime agency (Soca).
I’m quite prepared to believe that some of the sites probably deserved to be removed, none of us want malicious sites that infect our PCs or steal our credit card details. What I am not prepared to accept is that sites should be removed and registrations cancelled at the request of the police with no controls, no appeals procedure, no oversight from the judiciary and no accountability. It is particularly worrying that there seems to be no public list of domains that have been removed and no explanations of the reasons for any of the removals. The articles suggest that many are simply low level crime sites selling counterfeit goods, and of course nobody knows how many may have been removed because they were simply an embarrassment to the authorities or the police. Perhaps someone can explain the difference between such covert actions here in the UK and those of autocratic regimes elsewhere in the world? I can’t.
Fortunately a group of Internet users groups including The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), the Open Rights Group and London Internet Exchange (Linx) have called Nominet out on the practice and asked them to explain themselves. It also seems clear that Soca and Nominet have been acting illegally, flagrantly in breach of EU rules on freedom of communication.
Interestingly The Government’s Digital Economy Act, (the work of Peter Mandelson after being wined and dined by the publishing industry, no lobbying there then!) through which publishers recently obtained a high court injunction to force ISPs to monitor web traffic and block certain peer to peer sites like Pirate Bay, also appears to be in breach of EU communication rules.They can block sites with judicial authority but cannot filter web traffic as the act intended, although a slightly different take on it here makes the blocking unclear too.
While I am fervently anti EU I have to admit that some good can result now and again, credit where credit is due, this is not the first sensible ruling about communications freedom from the EU. I note that if the government withdraws from the European Court they may be free to deport benefit cheats but will also be free to play such censorship games, we should sometimes take care what we wish for.