Federal overreach and government control of the Internet is making news everywhere, but it’s not just the FCC net neutrality vote that is getting attention.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) section of the Department of Homeland Security obtained a warrant and shut down five music websites with no prior notice. Since then, that number has grown to more than 80 websites. Each seized website participated in bit torrent or file sharing. According to ICE, the sites were guilty of copyright infringement. In one particular case – a hip-hop website – the music that appeared on the site was obtained directly from the record company as an advance promotional copy.

It appears Homeland Security’s tactic of shutting down websites without warning is the beginning of a broader push from the federal government. Many website operators view this action as a precursor to a bill currently under consideration in Congress – the Combatting Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act. If the bill passes, it would allow the Attorney General power to seize websites they deem “dedicated to infringing activities.” In the words of Corynne McSherry from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Setting aside the due process concerns inherent in seizing any website without notice or appropriate recourse for the owner, it appears that the ‘raid’ has swept up several sites that are hardly in the business of willful copyright infringement.”

As I pointed out in my commentary on net neutrality, government control over the Internet opens the door to censorship. The courts have recognized that this is a problem and have already rebuked an attempt by the FCC to regulate the Internet under current federal law. Taking all of these federal regulatory initiatives together could spell trouble for the Internet, and for our First Amendment rights.

– Ryan Brannan