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ICANN had no role in seizing torrent domains

Kevin Murphy, November 29, 2010, Domain Policy

Okay, this is getting a bit silly now.

As you may have read, the US government “seized” a bunch of domain names that were hosting sites allegedly involved in piracy and counterfeit goods over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Over 80 domains, all of them in the .com namespace, had their DNS settings reconfigured to point them to a scary-looking notice from the Department of Homeland Security’s ICE division.

Somehow, in several reports over the last few days, this has been pinned on ICANN, and now some pro-piracy advocates are talking about setting up alternate DNS roots as a result.

Claims that ICANN colluded with the DHS on the seizures seem to have first appeared in TorrentFreak, which broke the news on Friday.

The site quoted the owner of torrent-finder.com:

“I firstly had DNS downtime. While I was contacting GoDaddy I noticed the DNS had changed. Godaddy had no idea what was going on and until now they do not understand the situation and they say it was totally from ICANN.”

For anyone involved in the domain name industry and the ICANN community, this allegation screams bogosity, but just to be on the safe side I checked with ICANN.

A spokesperson told me he’s checked with ICANN’s legal, security and compliance departments and they all had this to say:

ICANN had nothing to do with the ICE investigation… nobody knew anything about this and did not take part in the investigation.

All of the seized domains were .coms, and obviously ICANN has no technical authority or control over second-level .com domains. It’s not in the position to do what the reports allege.

If anybody were to ask ICANN to yank a domain, all it could do would be to politely forward the request to the registrar (in the case of torrent-finder.com, apparently Go Daddy) or the registry operator, which in the case of .com is of course VeriSign.

It would make more sense, save more time, and be less likely to create an international political incident, for the DHS to simply go directly to Go Daddy or VeriSign.

Both are US companies, and the DHS did have legal warrants, after all.

That’s almost certainly what happened here. I have requests for comment in with both companies and will provide updates when I have more clarity.

In the meantime, I suggest that any would-be pirates might be better served by switching their web sites to non-US domains, rather than trying to build an alternate root system from the ground up.

UPDATE: Ben Butler, Go Daddy’s director of network abuse, has just provided me with the following statement, via a spokesperson:

It appears the domain names were locked directly by VeriSign. Go Daddy has not received any law enforcement inquiries or court orders concerning the suspension of the domains in question.

Go Daddy has not been contacted by ICE or DHS on the domain names in question.

The statement goes on to say that Go Daddy believes that it should be the registrar’s responsibility to handle such takedown notices.

With regard to the registry taking action against the domain names in question, Go Daddy believes the proper process lies with the registrar and not the registry. This gives the registrar the ability to communicate with their customer about what has happened and why. When the registry acts, Go Daddy is unable to provide any information to our customers regarding the seizure of their domain names.

Go Daddy routinely cooperates with government and law enforcement officials to enforce and comply with the law.

I’ll post any statement I receive from VeriSign when I have it.

UPDATE: VeriSign sent this statement:

VeriSign received sealed court orders directing certain actions to be taken with respect to specific domain names, and took appropriate actions. Because the orders are sealed, further questions should be directed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.