But They Did Nothing Wrong, or Who Really Owns The Courts

One argument I frequently hear from students in class in support of expanded surveillance is that spying is ok, because if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you don’t need to worry.  Nothing bad will happen to you.  Tell that to the folks who run the music site Dajaz1.com.  Their domain was seized by the federal government on the complaint of the RIAA.  Problem was, they didn’t do anything wrong.

Apparently, however, the RIAA and music labels’ evidence against Dajaz1, a music blog, never came. Or, if it did, it was not enough to build a case and the authorities returned the site nearly 13 months later without explanation or apology.

They didn’t have any illegal files on their servers.  And they were put out of business.

Actually, the real problem is that the files for the lawsuit were sealed from the start.  So, law enforcement was allowed to extend the time of investigation three times secretly—the website’s lawyers were never allowed to see the requests for extension.  Basically, the website was not able to defend itself.

Had the government’s requests for extensions been publicly available from the outset, Dajaz1’s lawyers and public interest groups would have had the opportunity to point out how flimsy the rationale for continuing to hold the domain was. And concerned members of the public would have had the opportunity to pressure the government to drop the case. But because the process was shrouded in secrecy, there was little opportunity for debate either in the courtroom or in the court of public opinion.

Timothy B. Lee at Ars Technica is absolutely right when he says:

The Dajaz1 incident raises serious due process concerns. The government should be able to get its ducks in a row—including getting “outstanding questions” addressed by rightsholders—before seizing a domain name. If rightsholders haven’t provided enough evidence against a domain to justify forfeiture, that’s a good reason to not to seize it. The documents suggest that rather than exercising independent judgement about which sites to target, the government was outsourcing a significant portion of the decision-making process to the major labels.
When the record industry unduly influences the court system, sometimes honest people get hurt.
And they assure us that no abuses will happen under SOPA, ACTA, CISPA, etc…
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