Exercising Controller Over the Internet
Corporations have engaged in the controversial practice of seizing domain names based on trademark infringement for some time. Now, the federal government is seizing the domains of convicted felons. Such seizures give the government access to information about the people who have visited the sites and raise many questions as to who controls the Internet.
The Web sites seized in this latest round include those that provide chips to play illegal video games on Microsoft's Xbox or Sony's Playstation consoles. They also include those that sell equipment which allow people to hack satellite or cable TV signals. And, of course, those Web sites which sell drug paraphernalia are also targets.
In most of the cases, the seized domains are pointed at government servers. This has lead many to question whether or not the federal government is tracking who visits the sites. However, at least one United States Attorney is quoted in this New York Times piece as saying that new visitors are not tracked in the cases she's been involved in.
Nevertheless, she does say that the federal government is mining the databases and Web site log files of the sites in question. These will reveal who visited in the past, as well as who made purchases from the sites. In several situations, this information has been handed over to corporations, such as the satellite companies whose signals were hacked.
Though the 4th amendment protects "against unreasonable searches and seizures," there is quite a bit of legal precedence for such actions and little recourse for those whose domains were taken. However, in addition to the aforementioned privacy concerns and the inevitable clamoring about censorship, there's also some discussion over whether or not the United States government has the right to exercise such control over the Internet.
Though the Internet was born in the United States, it has matured into a World Wide medium. Nevertheless, US corporations have control over most of the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet, including the domain name registry. Among other things, The federal government has used that control to cut off entire countries from the Internet.
The Internet is the World's largest network. A network is the ultimate renewable resource. It can exist anywhere there are two computers and a consensus. Exercising heavy handed tactics in the administration of the Internet, imposing US law, especially for the benefit of US corporations, risks alienating the rest of the world.
With a consensus, the world could wrest control of the greater part of the Internet from the United States government tomorrow. Though a divided Internet would have little affect on many individuals, it would be detrimental to tourism and any other business that deals with companies and customers overseas. This may prove to be one of those times where you can only maintain control by not exercising it.