Wednesday, February 26, 2003

War Marches On (Which War?)

You might have thought that our federal government had its hands full dealing with the war against (some) terrorists, but you'd be wrong. John Ashcroft's Justice Department has plenty of time left over to pursue the war against (some) drugs. And they are taking the same route to that other, older, war that they have been blazing for the new one: Keep moving the line of what is permissible, what is allowable, under our system of protections for the innocent, which is supposed to mean those who have not (yet) been found guilty.

On Monday DEA raided 27 alleged paraphernalia vendors in a dozen states. These businesses controlled a total of 11 web sites. The Justice Department, not content to arrest and prosecute the evil doers for the crime of selling rolling papers and bongs, have seized control of their web sites and plan to redirect the traffic to DEA web sites where, as per their privacy disclosure statement, any web surfer who ventures there is subject to have their internet identity captured and logged.

According to Voice of America News,
The Justice Department announced that 55 people have been charged with trafficking in illegal drug paraphernalia. A total of 45 businesses, from Pennsylvania to California, have had their inventories seized. Under U.S. law, it is a crime to sell products that are mainly intended for the use of illegal drugs like marijuana and cocaine. These include items like marijuana bongs, or water pipes, and pipes and miniature spoons and scales for cocaine.... Mr. Ashcroft says customers who want to visit some of their favorite drug paraphernalia websites are in for a big surprise in the days ahead. They will be automatically redirected to the website for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Now these web sites, belonging to businesses and individuals who have been accused, but not convicted, of a crime, have been seized without due process of law, and their customers are subject to the internet version of arrest, search, and seizure (of identifying information).

According to, a venerable techie site:
Four domains registered through, and two which are registered through GoDaddy Software, have had their original DNS name server entries removed and replaced with a single name server: NS.PIPEDREAMS.DEA.GOV. The ownership and contact information of the domains did not appear to have been modified, however.

This places the action by the DOJ in somewhat uncharted legal territory. The domains were not seized outright, still listing their original owners as the registrants of record. However, these registrants, who have not yet been convicted of any crime, are clearly no longer in control of their domain names. Such control is instead in the hands of the DEA, or whoever controls the NS.PIPEDREAMS.DEA.GOV name server.

By redirecting these domains to a government web site, its operators are able to collect information about visitors coming to the site. This includes not only a user's IP address, but more specific information (cookies) which the original site may have stored on the user's computer during previous visits. Both types of information have the potential to personally identify users who naively attempt to visit the shut down sites.

"It's one thing to post an asset seizure notice, but it's another thing to actually redirect traffic to the DEA, especially when it is known that DEA captures IP addresses of visitors," said Richard Glen Boyre, legal counsel for the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics. Boyre says he's concerned about what information the DEA might collect, and has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union in regards to the government's actions.
So now the U.S. government, in taking advantage of a relatively new law, which law makes illegal the posession of certain items without a showing of intent, is being enforced by a virtual seizure of web sites without actually seizing anything, which has the potential of criminalizing web surfers who have done nothing more than clicking on a link with a name such as,, or We can only hope that at some point the public will say: "Enough." This incident, by itself, is almost trivial. But it is evidence of a trend that the U.S. government is eroding something basic to the American psyche. The right to be left alone. The right to not have to be careful about the things that one might peruse out of bored curiosity, which might mark one as a person showing criminal bong-seeking behavior. And making the bong itself, not the drugs that one might put inside, a criminal artifact. These are the same people who made the act of posessing or drawing cartoons of nude children legally equal to abusing actual children. One just has to wonder, if they are not stopped here, what is next? Why can't we return to the days when breaking the law required a victim? The days when breaking the law required a showing of the intent to do something bad? The days when we did not need Big Brother to protect us from ourselves?