Ten Years in Prison for a Website With Nothing But Links? It’s international prosecution at its best.

Mark Gibbs is one of my favorite NetworkWorld columnists, particularly because he shares my alarm at America’s numbskull thinking when it comes to cyber security. Consider one of his recent articles:

So you live in another country, say somewhere in Europe, maybe, oh I don’t know, England. In your perambulations around the Internet you find a load of stuff that interests you and you think “Hmmm, other people might be interested in this, I’ll share it online.”

You build a Web site that just lists the links … and links are the only thing on the site … and you turn it loose.

Next thing you know, your domain name is seized by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the various United States government agencies are trying to extradite you so you can be prosecuted for “violations of Federal criminal copyright infringement laws”, a crime that could send you to prison for 10 years!

Sounds ridiculous? Well, that’s exactly what has happened to Richard O’Dwyer, a 24 year old British citizen who is a student at Sheffield Hallam University in England.

Sounds ridiculous indeed. Here are the clear, strong Reasons Not To Trust The Feds:

  1. Failure to exercise discretion. O’Dwyer provided links, not materials. His activities easily could have been curtailed, if the were indeed illegal, with a letter from a lawyer. Proposing to send him to prison for 10 years is wildly overreacting: suspiciously so. Which brings me to this:
  2. The appearance of subjugation to the Motion Picture Association of America, which prodded this whole action into occurring.
  3. The appearance of selective enforcement. As Gibbs puts it,

    “What is totally insane about the charge that O’Dwyer’s site was infringing anyone’s copyright is it was just a list of links … a list of links much like one that you might get from Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Will any of those companies be hauled into court for the same charge? I think not.”

  4. If England agrees to extradite O’Dwyer, that means that anyone in the world could be subject to the same treatment if they so much as post a link on Facebook or Twitter that someone decides somehow infringes on a copyright.

These are the same Feds who are asking hackers to join them in cyber defense? When the Feds demonstrate this kind of lack of discretion, any hacker should think twice about their own safety.

These are the Feds who are asking security experts to come defend American corporations? Why, so they can do THIS?

These are the Feds who enforce some laws, some of the time, other laws with unreasonable ferocity, and many laws not at all? How can any security expert feel SAFE working with them?

And these are the same Feds who want us to help protect against international threats – when they ARE one of the biggest threats?