The US Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency seems to be consolidating its portfolio of seized domain names by transferring them to its own registrar account.
Many domains ICE recently seized at the registry level under Operation “In Our Sites” have, as of yesterday, started naming the agency as the official registrant in the Whois database.
ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security, has collected over 100 domains, most of them .coms, as part of the anti-counterfeiting operation it kicked off with gusto last November.
The domains all allegedly either promoted counterfeit physical goods or offered links to bootleg digital content.
At a technical level, ICE originally assumed control of the domains by instructing registries such as VeriSign, the .com operator, to change the authoritative name servers for each domain to seizedservers.com.
All the domains pointed to that server, which is controlled by ICE, resolve to a web server displaying the same image:
(The banner, incidentally, appears to have been updated this month. If clicked, it now sends visitors to this anti-piracy public service announcement hosted at YouTube.)
Until this week, the Whois record associated with each domain continued to list the original registrant – a great many of them apparently Chinese – but ICE now seems to be consolidating its portfolio.
As of yesterday, a sizable chunk — but by no means all — of the seized domains have been transferred to Network Solutions and now name ICE as the registrant in their Whois database records.
Rather than simply commandeering the domains, it appears that ICE now “owns” them too.
But ICE has already allowed one of its seizures to expire. The registration for silkscarf-shop.com expired in March, and it no longer points to seizedservers.com or displays the ICE piracy warning.
The domain is now listed in Redemption Period status, meaning it is starting along the road to ultimately dropping and becoming available for registration again.
Interestingly, most of the newly moved domains appear to have been transferred into NetSol from original registrars based in China, such as HiChina, Xin Net and dns.com.cn.
After consulting with a few people more intimately familiar with the grubby innards of the inter-registrar transfer process than I am, I understand that the names could have been moved without the explicit intervention of either registrar, but that it would not be entirely unprecedented if the transfers had been handled manually under the authority of a court order.
If I find out for sure, I’ll provide an update.