As first reported by the BBC, The Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) is seeking the authority to close domains engaged in certain “criminal” activities, which includes not just website domains, but domain registrations such as email, and perhaps phones, too*. The police have submitted a plan to Nominet, a company which oversees all .uk web addresses. And more than a few liberal minds in London, numerous IT lawyers among them, are concerned.
Nominet has “no clear legal obligation” to ensure .uk domains aren’t used for criminal activities. They also stated that SOCA’s proposal is still up for debate and invited people to join the discussion.
Just two weeks ago, Fitwatch, a site dedicated to campaigning against the surveillance tactics of FIT teams, was taken down by its UK-based web hosting company, JustHost, after a formal request by the Metropolitan Police.
SOCA wants the power to shut down domains if they’re deemed criminal, and then inform Nominet of their conclusion, effectively increasing nationwide censorship by UK’s law enforcement agencies.
Eleanor Bradley, director of operations at Nominet, told the BBC, “We now need to get a balanced group of stakeholders together to talk about the policy and its implications.”
“If you are going to do this, then fine, but it needs judicial oversight,” said barrister and IT lawyer David Harris to the BBC, who is one of a few IT lawyers worried by the proposal’s potential implications.
Nick Lockett, a lawyer at DLL specialising in computer law, told the BBC he was “deeply concerned” about SOCA’s proposal if it means the police could just shut down websites without a final conviction. “In a world of online retailing, the ability for a police officer to seize any business, whether that is blocking a domain or seizing the servers – pre-conviction or certainly pre-warrant – would be a dramatic change in the relationship between the police and the internet community,” he told BBC News.
There is currently no timeline as to when the proposal will be discussed or when the resulting policy would be adopted.