UK police are asking for new powers to shut down websites that are seen as engaging in illegal activity.
The powers come as part of a proposal from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) to Nominet, the organisation in charge of .uk domain names.
The proposal has been labelled as “worrying” by a number of IT lawyers, according to the BBC, who believe it is wrong for a website to be taken offline without judicial oversight, but Nominet was keen to allay fears by pointing out that it is not yet policy.
It’s interesting that the police want these new powers after they recently closed FITwatch.org.uk, a website that was aimed at protecting people against Forward Intelligence Teams and educating people about their rights should they encounter police abuse.
UK police simply asked the US webhost of the website to take it down, since it was, according to the police, “being used to undertake criminal activities”. While not having any power or authority over the webhost in question, the request was complied with and the website was taken down. It has since been brought back online with a different webhost.
It is not certain if this has prompted the police to request the new powers to force the shut down of websites, but it certainly appears that way. The extremely concerning element of the proposal is that the police can act without a conviction taking place, which is like jailing someone without trial.
The proposal has not received a warm welcome from legal experts, but it is likely to receive even stronger condemnation from freedom of speech activists and net neutrality advocates.
While obviously a certain amount of policing of the internet is expected, such as removing child pornography or terrorist guidelines, what is a potentially trigger-happy proposal could lead to genuine websites being taken offline on baseless suspicions, bringing us that one step closer to censoring the internet.