posted on Mar, 5 2003 @ 04:56 PM
Federal agents routinely seize property allegedly used in the commission of a crime, anything from a drug dealer's car or speedboat to a hacker's
In a series of raids in recent weeks, the Justice Department has extended such grabs to property that might seem esoteric but worry civil libertarians
ó Internet domain names.
In one case, the government took over Web sites that it said peddled bongs, roach clips, rolling papers and other paraphernalia used in the
consumption of illegal drugs.
Prosecutors also acquired, in a plea agreement, a site called isonews.com whose owner was charged with selling special chips that let pirated titles
run on videogame consoles.
In the past, Web sites simply vanished after the computer servers that hosted them landed in police property rooms. But in the recent cases, the sites
remained alive, greeting visitors with stern warnings from government agencies.
The trend is alarming online civil liberties groups and legal scholars, who say the government's new tactic risks depriving people of valuable
property ó their Internet storefronts and thus their livelihoods ó as electronic commerce becomes more common.
"If you want to take down a Web site but simply confiscate the servers, operators can always buy other servers," said Michael Overly, an attorney
specializing in computer law at Foley & Lardner. "But if they take the domain name away, then they've put the person out of business."