Police in the UK could get new powers to suspend internet domain names without a court order if they're being used for illegal activity, under rules proposed to .uk registry manager Nominet.
A Nominet volunteer policy team has recommended the creation of an "expedited" process for shutting down addresses when the police say "the urgent suspension of the domain name is necessary to prevent serious and immediate consumer harm".
The proposed rules, if adopted, would apply to any address ending in .uk, such as example.co.uk.
Shutting down a domain name effectively shuts down the associated website and email.
In order for a domain to be grabbed under the policy, a law enforcement agency would have to file a declaration with Nominet that a seizure would be "proportionate, necessary, and urgent".
Police would not need to seek court approval, however, in order to have a site taken down.
Domains being used to commit any of the laundry list of crimes covered by the Serious Crimes Act 2007 – such as counterfeiting, fraud, prostitution, money laundering, blackmail and copyright infringement – would be eligible for seizure under the policy.
The policy recommendations envision an explicit exception for cases where freedom of expression is at stake. There would also be an appeals process and a periodic policy review.
"This should not be a path of least resistance [for police]," said Nominet's director of policy, Alex Blowers. "This is for cases where in the time it takes to obtain that court order the damage to consumers will already have been done."
He added: "We are not going to recommend that this expedited process is used for private copyright enforcement." Only law enforcement agencies known to Nominet would be able to ask for a take-down.
The "issues group" behind the creation of the recommendations was formed at the request of police earlier this year, and is the first example of Nominet's newly instituted community-driven policy model.
It is chaired by Dr Ian Walden, a professor of communications law at Queen Mary University of London, and has members drawn from law enforcement, ISPs, domain registrars, the academia and rights groups.
Nominet's rules and regulations currently do not allow for a domain to be blocked due to criminality.
However, in 2010 it disconnected thousands of domains used to sell counterfeit goods at the behest of law enforcement, on the pretext that the registrants had provided phoney contact information, which is against the existing rules.
Domain seizures are also proving popular across the pond, where the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has grabbed scores of .com and .net domains. The ICE, however, does this by serving the registry manager, VeriSign, with judge-approved court orders.
The latest Nominet recommendations have not been finalised. The issue group will meet one more time, on 21 September, to discuss its report before it is submitted to the Nominet board of directors in October. If adopted, the policy could go into effect by the end of the year.
In the meantime, UK internet users are encouraged to submit their opinions. The draft report, and information for filing a comment, can be found here. ®