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Saturday, November 27, 2010

ICE Seizes BitTorrent Meta Search Engine

Starting with the exit question, something to ask yourselves while reading the story itself.

Can the U.S. Government seize a site like Google because people can search for torrents?

TorrentFreak, along with The Hill, Raw Story and others, report that the U.S. Government, specifically ICE, has seized dozens of domains (76) , most of which carry illegal or counterfeit goods hosted right on their sites.

Along with those seizures a site called was seized as well. does not host any goods, it works as Google does, allowing people to utilize their search engine to find torrents which is data used in file sharing.

When a site has no tracker, carries no torrents, lists no copyright works unless someone searches for them and responds just like Google, accusing it of infringement becomes somewhat of a minefield – unless you’re ICE Homeland Security Investigations that is.

(Notice now shown on seized domains)

The owner of Torrent Finder told TorrentFreak "My domain has been seized without any previous complaint or notice from any court! I firstly had DNS downtime. While I was contacting GoDaddy I noticed the DNS had changed. Godaddy had no idea what was going on and until now they do not understand the situation and they say it was totally from ICANN."

Via TorrentFreak:

Aside from the fact that domains are being seized seemingly at will, there is a very serious problem with the action against Torrent-Finder. Not only does the site not host or even link to any torrents whatsoever, it actually only returns searches through embedded iframes which display other sites that are not under the control of the Torrent-Finder owner.

Torrent-Finder remains operational through another URL,, so feel free to check it out for yourself. The layouts of the sites it searches are clearly visible in the results shown.

TorrentFreak provides a list of all the sites seized so far at the bottom of their article.

In the meantime, following the discussions generated by this news, I see some very good questions and points being made.


As of its last update, Torrentfreak counted 76 domains shut down this week.

Homeland Security's ability to shut down sites without a court order evidently comes from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a Clinton-era law that allows Web sites to be closed on the basis of a copyright complaint. Critics have long assailed the DMCA for being too broad, as complainants don't need to prove copyright infringement before a site can be taken down.

News of the shutdowns has some observers wondering whether the US really needs COICA, the anti-counterfeiting bill that passed through a Senate committee with unanimous approval last week. That bill would allow the federal government to block access to Web sites that attorneys general deem to have infringed on copyright.

"Domain seizures coming under the much debated ‘censorship bill’ COICA? Who needs it?" quips Torrentfreak.

However, COICA would allow the government to block access to Web sites located anywhere in the world, while Homeland Security's take-downs are limited to servers inside the United States. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said he would place a hold on COICA, effectively killing the bill at least until the new congressional session next year.

New York Times:

The new seizures also come as a new bill, the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act, is making its way through Congress. The bill, which was approved by a Senate committee last week, would allow the government to shut down sites that are “dedicated to infringing activities.”

Critics have said the law is too broad, and could affect sites that have nothing to do with file-sharing; the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties group, has called it “an Internet censorship bill.” Waleed A. GadElKareem, who operated Torrent Finder from Egypt, said his site was shut down on Thursday without any notice.

“My Web site does not even host any torrents or direct-link to them,” Mr. GadElKareem wrote in an e-mail, adding that he only links to other sites. “I am sure something is wrong!”

He added that his server was up and running at a different address.

James Joyner from Outside The Beltway makes the following points:

First, it’s not at all clear under what authority ICE can seize domain names. Aside from the .gov and .mil domains, the US Federal Government does not regulate the Internet; that’s the province of ICANN, a supposedly independent international body.

Second, if a Federal agency has this authority, one would think it would be Justice, not Homeland Security — let alone the wing whose job is to stop illegal aliens from entering the country. The theory under which illegal movie downloads constitute a threat to the homeland is one I’d like to see.

I can understand shutting down sites selling counterfeit goods, taking the matter up in court and prosecuting the owners of those sites for breaking the law but the BitTorrent meta search engine works exactly as Google, Yahoo, Ask or any other search engine works, you go to it, you type in keywords and then you click on results which take you to other sites that match your searches.

Does this now mean the U.S. Government, ICE and Department of Homeland Security could simply seize Google, Yahoo or any others simply because their search engines provide results?

This is a blatant abuse of power on the part of the Obama administration.