Should SOCA be allowed to request domain takedown without judicial oversight?
Claire Sellick, Event Director of Infosecurity Europe, has been talking about one of Nominet’s current policy proposals: Dealing with domain names used in connection with criminal activity. “If, as seems likely,” she says, “Nominet adopts the plan, then a decision will be taken to take a site offline in very short order, where the intent is clearly criminal or the site appears to act as a conduit for malware.”
“The Plan” is effectively the desire of the UK’s Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) to request the automatic removal of websites it doesn’t like; and this Plan would be easily achieved with the acquiescence of Nominet. Nominet maintains the register of UK domain names. Put succinctly, if Nominet withdraws a domain name from that register, then the corresponding website just vanishes. Just like that. Since websites are now the lifeblood of not just commerce but all organisations, then this is no small power. We don’t like you – so, poof! you are gone.
Such power must be tempered by a seriously responsible approach. And in fairness to Nominet, its public announcement is not nearly as cut and dried as Claire Sellick suggests:
The Dealing with domain names used in connection with criminal activity issue group is being formed, in response to a proposal submitted by Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). The publication of this proposal led to a wide range of stakeholders expressing an interest in being involved in the discussion. We are calling for those wanting to put themselves forward to take part directly to register by 23 February.
The situation is this. Nominet’s T&Cs do not clearly state that domain names must not be used for criminal activity. The Serious and Organised Crime Agency wants to be able to tell Nominet to take down any website it declares to be involved in illegal activity. Nominet feels that it needs to make this explicit in its T&Cs; and is asking its membership to discuss the issue.
Clearly, however, Claire Sellick considers it to be a done deal. I really hope not. I really hope that Nominet and its membership get some genuine safeguards into this request from SOCA. The idea that the police can say what is and what is not illegal is, to my mind, unconstitutional. I have always believed that it is the courts, and not the police, that decide whether something is legal or illegal. So the police acting as judge and jury as well as enforcers is a very scary development.