Friday, February 4, 2011

DNS shutdowns are up and running

Via Freedom to Tinker, I read:
ICE executed seizure warrants against the 10, ATDHE.NET, CHANNELSURFING.NET, HQ-STREAMS.COM, HQSTREAMS.NET, FIRSTROW.NET, ILEMI.COM, IILEMI.COM, IILEMII.COM, ROJADIRECTA.ORG and ROJADIRECTA.COM, by demanding that registries redirect nameserver requests for the domains to, where a colorful "This domain name has been seized by ICE" graphic is displayed.

As I've written earlier, this is a bad way for people to civilly coexist on the Internet. Let me count a few of the ways:

  • DNS is a crude weapon. Disabling a domain name is like disabling an entire postal zip code. The collateral damage can easily be larger than the intended damage.

  • This option isn't needed if you convict the defendant, because then you have legal rights against the defendant's business assets, anyway. It's only useful if you are preemptively shutting down a business that you haven't had time to bother taking to court.

  • There's no good legal theory where the U.S. government has authority over .com and .net addresses. If the U.S. has rights over .com and .net, why not Canada, or the state of Florida? Why not the Bahamas?

  • One of the sites, Rojadirecta, has already successfully defended itself in court. In Spain. The U.S. has successfully turned off their DNS record anyway.
It all comes across as rather thuggish. To briefly try and outline how we might approach these issues in a more principled and civil way, it might go like this:
  • Leave DNS and routing alone, much like we leave speech mostly free. This implies that law enforcement can't do much about people who are broadcasting copyrighted material from the North Pole, but realistically, they can't anyway. They can still convict the native citizens that download it.

  • If a wrong has happened, then try the person or organization that did the deed. Don't go after a DNS provider, an ISP, a router manufacturer, a software author, or any other intermediary who merely provided a general-purpose tool.

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