The Perils of Using the Domain Name System to Address Unlawful Internet Content
Governments and law enforcement agencies are increasingly grappling with how best to address unlawful content and activity online. In the United States, there has recently been considerable focus on using the domain name system (DNS) to go after websites associated with unlawful content. Since late June 2010, law enforcement agencies have executed seizure warrants for over 100 domains associated with copyright and trademark infringement as part of “Operation In Our Sites." The "PROTECT IP Act," introduced in the U.S. Senate, would give law enforcement the ability to bring actions against foreign domain names and to compel Internet service providers (ISPs) and other DNS service providers to block domain-name lookup requests.
CDT believes that the these approaches to unlawful online activity – while perhaps attractive to those seeking to block particular content – would be largely ineffective yet carry significant risk of collateral damage. Taking down and blocking domain names risk suppressing lawful expression; exacerbating cybersecurity risks; and encouraging cross-jurisdictional disputes in which each country tries to use the domain name system to assert domestic jurisdiction over foreign websites. This paper briefly discusses the ineffectiveness and risks of domain-focused enforcement.