Police may soon seize domains without court order

Police powers that could see the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) being able to suspend the domain names of websites without a court order are being considered by registrar Nominet.

Nominet, the body responsible for adminstering UK internet domain registrations, has issued a formal call for interested parties to join discussions on the proposal. If agreed, the organisation will change its terms and conditions to enable the requested powers.

Such a move would make it easier for police to take down domains such as Fitwatch.org.uk, the site set up to protest against alleged abuses of police surveillance powers.

Last November, the site's web hosting was pulled after a request from the Metropolitan Police. The move came after the outfit published advice to student tuition fee protestors on how to evade detection.

Crucially, though, police didn't have the power to seize its domain name - the recognisable web address used by most users - enabling the site to resurface days later, hosted by a 'safe' ISP based in the US - beyond the jurisdiction of UK law enforcement.

Under the proposed powers, police will be able to request that Nominet suspends domains believed to be used for criminal purposes.

In a statement, Nominet director of operations Eleanor Bradley told IT news portal ZDNet: "How much power to give law enforcement [to take down websites] is what everybody needs to be talking about. Transparency around process and appeals mechanisms are exactly what we need to look at."

Digital rights organisation the Open Rights Group (ORG) has warned against the danger of unchecked police powers of takedown, warning: "All police authorities make mistakes, and if a site is taken down in error, or maliciously, then people's rights have been infringed."

If you have a view on the proposed powers, time is running out. You have until 23rd February to apply to be part of Nominet's 'issue group' on the subject. Members of the group will be confirmed by 2nd March.