The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and international law enforcement partners successfully shut down 132 “Cyber Monday” websites that were allegedly hawking counterfeit goods to customers, the agency announced today. The crackdown brings the total number of domains seized by the federal government to 1,630.
Dubbed “Cyber Monday 3,” the mission was coordinated by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit, which leads the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center). HSI worked with law enforcement agencies from Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania, and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Police Office (Europol). The U.S. agency seized 101 alleged counterfeit websites with URLs that fall under U.S. jurisdiction, which includes any .com, .net. .us, .org, .cc, .tv, or .name addresses. European partners seized 31 domains, all of which ended in a foreign-based top-level domain (TLD), such as .eu, .be, .dk, .fr, .ro and .uk.
U.S. authorities arrested one person, though no name was released.
“This operation is a great example of the tremendous cooperation between ICE and our international partners at the IPR Center,” said ICE Director John Morton, in a statement. “Our partnerships enable us to go after criminals who are duping unsuspecting shoppers all over the world. This is not an American problem, it is a global one and it is a fight we must win.”
“Cyber Monday 3″ also successfully identified a number of PayPal accounts associated with the allegedly infringing websites. ICE says “in excess of $175,000″ was seized in the effort.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the opportunity to work closely with HSI to shut down criminals targeting our customers and our brand just as the holiday season takes off,” said Tod Cohen, vice president and deputy general counsel of Government Relations for eBay Inc, in a statement. “PayPal and eBay Inc. pride ourselves in going above and beyond in the fight against the illegal online trafficking of counterfeit goods by partnering with law enforcement and rights owners globally, and we hope that this is fair warning to criminals that the Internet is not a safe place to try and sell fake goods.”
Earlier this year, ICE seized 70 domains accused of selling counterfeit goods in an effort called “Project Copy Cat,” one of a number of missions that are part of “Operation In Our Sites,” or IOS, which HSI launched in 2010.
Websites targeted by IOS, which include big names like Bodog and Megaupload, are slapped with a “seizure banner” that indicates the website has been confiscated by the U.S. government. ICE says the seizure banner has been viewed by more than 110 individuals over the past two years.
While shutting down websites that attempt to sell unsuspecting deal hunters counterfeit goods (or, worse, steal their identities) provides a clear service to society, civil liberty advocates question the legality of “Operation In Our Sites.”
The U.S. government claims it has the right to seize any domain that ends .com, .net, .org, .us, .cc, .tv, or .name because the companies that deal out these types of domains operate in the U.S. However, legal experts at the ACLU and other rights organizations assert that the preemptive seizure of domains that are allegedly engaged in copyright infringement is a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process, and First Amendment protection of free speech.
In an effort to better clarify the rules surrounding domain name seizure, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) recently asked the Reddit community to offer their ideas for a new piece of legislation that Lofgren says would “build due process requirements into domain name seizures for copyright infringement.”
Image via elwynn/Shutterstock