Forfeiture: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Forfeiture laws are great for the government: none of that messy court and lawyers stuff. Just accuse someone of a crime and take their stuff. There’s more about forfeiture elsewhere on this website. Now there’s something new being appropriated: domain names. In two separate cases last week, the Justice Department seized domains for web sites that it claimed were engaging in illegal activity.

In one of those cases, the sites were allegedly used to sell drug paraphernalia such as bongs and roach clips. Visitors are now greeted with a message from the government. So what’s the big deal? The Justice Department’s privacy policy allows it to hand over information it collects from people visiting seized web sites to “appropriate law enforcement officials” for criminal prosecution.

It’s legal to read any web site (with the possible exception of one with child porn), but in our new security-conscious climate it’s easy to imagine the Justice Department assuming the worst about an innocent visitor and not be terribly sensitive to their First Amendment rights. There are clear notices on the sites that the government seized last week. But you won’t see them if you send an e-mail, and any that is sent to the postmasters and Webmasters of those sites is now read by the Justice Department.

Read more at the ZDNet article: Police Powers Move Into Your Browser.