Happy Cyber Monday, punk.
In what’s become an annual tradition, U.S. officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) celebrated Cyber Monday with force, shutting down 132 sites that it says illegally sold copyrighted goods.
“These websites were set up to dupe consumers into unknowingly buying counterfeit goods as part of the holiday shopping season,” ICE said in a statement.
The agency, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, also arrested one. Most of the seizures were part of an operation called Cyber Monday 3, as it’s the third straight year that ICE deliberately seized sites on the Monday after Thanksgiving, when many electronics retailers offer special deals. Thirty-one of the domain name seizures were from Project Transatlantic, which partnered with several European countries to shutter sites.
ICE didn’t name any of the sites it took down, but seems to have inadvertently named several. Posting what it called “‘Spot the fake’ photo challenge” to Facebook, ICE uploaded several screengrabs of a sites that purported to sell legitimate goods: originalbeatsbydre.com, tiffanyandcojewelrysale.net, newyorkjetsjersey.com, and muchrosettastone.com. Visitors to any of those sites now see an ICE banner instead.
The operation is a reminder that ICE cracks down on copyright infringement—worldwide—and that it often conflates websites that sell copyrighted physical goods with those that facilitate Web piracy. Similar ICE operations, for instance, have shut down websites such as TV Shack and some iterations of First Row Sports—sites that don’t host any copyrighted content, but instead provide links to copyrighted, streaming video.
ICE’s practice of taking down sites which it finds violating copyright is not without its critics. There is at least one clearly documented case of the agency taking down a site, Dajaz1, which was later found to have not actually violated copyright. ICE took more than a year to return access to Dajaz1.com to its owner. And as noted by some Internet-rights-friendly members of Congress, including Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), ICE’s power to take down websites appears to violate due process.
Whether ICE will continue its post-Thanksgiving tradition in coming years is anyone’s guess. Citing the need to preserve free speech, Lofgren has championed creating a new law making a fairer system for taking down domain names, even asking Reddit on Nov. 19 for help writing it.
Photo via Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)/Facebook