The 84,000 question

I hadn’t had a chance yet to comment on the 84,000 websites the U.S. government seized about a month ago because they were supposedly associated with child pornography.  Turns out the government was wrong about that, but the damage was done since a lot of visitors to the websites of innocent small business owners were directed to a page displaying an imposing government seal and the statement:

Advertisement, distribution, transportation, receipt, and possession of child pornography constitute federal crimes that carry penalties for first time offenders of up to 30 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution.

Whoops.

Recently, the White House’s IP Czar Victoria Espinel testified before the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) had a lot of pointed questions (YouTube video of the exchange here).  Now Ars Technica has posted an interview Rep. Lofgren in which talks about the due process problems with seizing domain names without giving people a chance to defend themselves before the seizure takes place:

You’ve got the prosecutors coming in, they have a judge sign something, and the people whose property is being seized are never heard from. It doesn’t appear, honestly—though it would not solve the due process problems—that there’s much inquiry on the part of the prosecution, either. Is there a fair use right? Is there an authorized use? Is there legitimate business going on? There’s no opportunity for that to be raised, and once the damage is done, it’s done.I’ve not yet talked to some of the individuals, but we’ve had second-hand reports of people in the child pornography takedown [i.e., who owned one of those 84,000 websites] whose businesses were essentially destroyed. There’s hardly anything you can say. It’s worse than accusing somebody of being a pedophile.

These are troubling developments indeed.  The whole point of giving the innocent-until-proven-guilty the chance to defend themselves before seizure is to help prevent these sorts of devastating mistakes from happening.