ISPs and other groups say that the police-led taking down of websites without court orders could lead to legitimate sites being targeted
The shutting down by police of websites selling counterfeit goods has been criticised by internet organisations as setting a dangerous precedent.
The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), the Open Rights Group (ORG) and the London Internet Exchange (LINX) said that because the police had not obtained court orders ton show 'due cause' to close the sites, such action could be taken against legitimate websites in future.
The three organisations said in a statement: "Nominet [the '.uk' domain name registry] has to date been suspending domain names at the mere request of law enforcement in a variety of cases. We have no doubt that so far most of the domains have been worth removing. Some clearly have been taken down incorrectly.
"But whatever the current practice - the scope of a criminality policy puts in place principles which will inevitably be used much more widely in the future."
The operation to close the sites was run by the Met's Central e-Crime unit this month with the aim of protecting Christmas shoppers from falling victim to online scams - mainly buying fake or non-existent goods.
Following notification from the Police, Nominet worked with the relevant .uk registrars to suspend the .uk domain names about which the police were concerned.
London's Metropolitan Police, along with Nominet, Trading Standards and the Office of Fair Trading, have run similar swoops of sites run by criminal gangs over past Christmas periods.
After the latest suspensions, detective inspector Paul Hoare of the PCeU said: "In the run up to Christmas the PCeU will continue to work with Nominet and other registries to disable as many such sites as possible."
Usually Nominet requires the police to have a court order before it takes action to suspend sites using ‘.uk' domains that are being used for criminal purposes. But getting these orders are seen as slowing down the process and so they were not obtained for the latest swoop .
Nominet chief executive Lesley Cowley said: ".uk deserves its reputation as a trusted online space for British consumers, and we are committed to tackling cybercrime to keep it that way."
But ISPA, ORG and LINX said that to safeguard legitimate sites, the police should get court orders before getting sites taken down or at least as soon as possible after that happens.
Jim Killock of ORG told us: "Court orders can be quick, and in emergencies if a site is shut down immediately they may only be required to continue with the suspension. There are lots of ways to ensure both safety and due process."
ISPA, ORG and LINX also said that Nominet's current practices fail to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, which establishes the right to an open fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.
"Currently, no-one can know in advance when their fundamental Convention rights of freedom of expression, assembly, property and private communications may be interfered with by Nominet - acting at its own discretion on advice from a variety of state agencies," added Killock.
A Nominet representative told Computeractive that it was aware of the concerns and would be working with the organisations in the new year to find a solution to the problem:
"Nominet continues to work through its policy process on the issue of dealing with domain names used in connection with criminal activity. We had hoped to submit a proposed policy to our board in the December time-frame but following some recent public feedback it is clear that there are issues that require further discussion.
"Our approach from the outset has been to seek consensus where possible. Therefore we are working to reconvene the issue group in January to attempt to see whether differences can be resolved, prior to submitting any recommendation to our board."
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