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ISP outcry halts cybercops' automatic .UK takedown plan

Telcos troubled by domain cut-offs without court orders

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Plans to allow Blighty cops to "switch off" websites used by criminals have been delayed following pressure from internet firms and campaigners, who claimed such a move would hamper freedom of expression online.

"We had hoped to submit a proposed policy to the [Nominet] Board in December, but following some recent public feedback, it is clear that there are issues that require further discussion," said the UK domain registry.

Nominet has been mulling over such a change to its policy, which would dramatically bolster police powers when it comes to cutting off domain names in the UK.

Under the proposals, cybercops would ask Nominet to remove sites from the .uk registry if police said they had reasonable grounds to believe the sites were being used for criminal activity.

However, the ISPA, London Internet Exchange (LINX) and the Open Rights Group have told the organisation that they disagree with the policy. The ISPA, a trade group that represents telcos including BT and Virgin Media, gave The Register this statement: "ISPA intends to continue to work with Nominet and the issue working group on the draft recommendations."

LINX, BT and Virgin Media hadn't immediately got back to us with comment at time of writing.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport gave us this response: "Nominet are currently developing proposals to change their terms and conditions to deal with domain names connected to criminal activity.

"They are working with a broad range of interested parties and the government will continue to be part of that process."

The Open Rights Group said in a blog post on Wednesday that each party involved in discussions with Nominet about the policy proposals had "separately decided that domain suspensions need to take place after receipt of a court order".

Domains suspended upon polite request

However, as we reported earlier this month, it appeared that automatic powers granted to allow police to take down websites had been slightly clawed backed by Nominet.

The new plan said that a court order would be needed in some cases.

"Nominet has to date been suspending domain names at the mere request of law enforcement in a variety of cases," the ORG said.

"The full details of these suspensions have not been released: rather, some summary information has been provided orally giving an indication of the volumes and the nature of the offences. We are asking Nominet to publish this information."

The campaign group argued that such police powers would "inevitably be used more widely in the future".

If a domain suspension notice is disputed by a .uk registrant, Nominet would consult an "independent expert", such as an outside lawyer, before deciding whether to ask police for a court order, the new draft recommendations state.

That's a plan which clearly isn't far-reaching enough for telcos and campaigners, however.

"Our approach from the outset has been to seek consensus where possible. Therefore, we are working to reconvene the issue group in January to attempt to see whether differences can be resolved, prior to submitting any recommendation to the Board," Nominet said.

"We remain committed to ensuring all stakeholders have their views represented, so we can continue to run .uk for the benefit of all." ®

Update

A spokesperson for LINX got back to us to say that the organisation fears social networks, online auction houses and similar sites could be unfairly taken down by cops if their users upload dodgy material. Its statement reads:

A domain owner should be allowed to defend themselves in court. We are also concerned that the law enforcement agencies' proposal does not limit suspension to domains where the domain owner had criminal intent itself: this could place at risk any domain with user-generated content, such as auction sites and social networking.

LINX members are committed to helping the police combat criminal behaviour online, but all such action needs to be balanced and proportionate, and respect the property rights of legitimate businesses. We would welcome suspension of domains held by criminal enterprises, but to protect the innocent suspension should be ordered by a court.

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