UK Police seek powers to close .uk Domains

I have mixed feelings about this, but the BBC is reporting that the police in the UK are seeking co-operation with the Internet's domain provider, Nominet, to close .uk domains that are associated with crime.

This is definitely a welcome move as Nominet currently has no obligation to close down criminal websites, but the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) wants things to change.  Not everyone is welcoming the news however.  David Harris, an IT lawyer and barrister told the BBC "In a world of online retailing, the ability for a police officer to seize any business, whether that is blocking a domain or seizing the servers - pre-conviction or certainly pre-warrant - would be a dramatic change in the relationship between the police and the Internet community."

While this is of course a very good and serious point, the move is being broadly welcomed from other quarters, so long as it comes with judicial oversight but there are some serious flaws to consider.

The most obvious is that such a move would need international agreement at government level.  At the moment criminals would just register a new domain or avoid .uk domain names altogether.  Thus the police would have no way to shut the sites down.  The second flaw is that these domains will only be able to be shut some time after they have already done damage.

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It can be extremely difficult to detect criminal websites early on though online security companies do make a good job of detection.

SOCA's move is an important first step and now needs to be picked up by the British government and discussed formally at the United Nations.  Then perhaps in a few years we will be able to see Internet security firms, international law-enforcement, domain registrars and web hosting companies working together for the greater good.  This one won't be easy to thrash out however.

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