Keeping with recent tradition, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice have initiated a sweeping crackdown on websites accused of selling counterfeit goods and pirated software. ICE had performed a similar operation last year, as we reported on Cyber Monday in 2010.
The list is larger this year, TorrentFreak reports. 82 domains were seized in 2010 and this year is easily on its way to doubling that figure. However, this time around, ICE seems to be limiting its endeavor to commercial pirates and counterfeiters. The websites affected all directly profit from the sales or subscriptions of their ill-gotten goods.
Last year, ICE had focused more on seizing the domains of free music and movie websites. At the time of this writing, no such content has been affected thus far.
Because ICE only seizes domain names, the websites themselves continue to exist and operate online. They merely lose the "shortcut" you use to access them. As a result, browser extensions exist which can circumvent domain take-downs, such as MAFIAAFire. TechSpot reported in May 2011 how Mozilla resisted a request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to remove MAFIAAFire from their add-on catalogue. Despite those efforts, the extension is still available, only now for both Chrome and Firefox.
A few dozen sites have reportedly switched over to back-up domains. Many website operators involved in questionable content have learned hard lessons from previous domain seizures and have planned ahead. By purchasing alternative domain names, their websites can still be accessed through different addresses.
It would seem ICE's ability to seize domain names without any visible due process throws the need for SOPA further into question. A controversial bill, SOPA is set to broaden the authority of government and companies to shutdown websites that may be engaged in illegal activities. Tech companies have expressed concerns over the bill, questioning the potential unintended consequences of the power it bestows.
List of known seized domains via TorrentFreak