Washington, D.C. (May 23, 2019) – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today, on behalf of Floor64 and Techdirt, a media outlet that reports on technology, filed a complaint against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeking records responsive to a FOIA request regarding ICE’s “Operation In Our Sites.” The government failed to provide any responsive records to Techdirt’s FOIA request – leaving them with no recourse but to sue the government.

Techdirt requested information about “Operation In Our Sites,” after the agency issued a press release touting its efforts to work with “high-profile industry representatives and anti-counterfeiting associations” to seize 1 million website domains. There are general concerns the sites, while allegedly offered counterfeit or copyrighted material, were seized without due process, and that federal law enforcement agents relied on industry representatives to identify the alleged website domains – raising the concern of actual or the appearance of cronyism.

James Valvo, counsel and senior policy advisor at CoA Institute, issued the following statement:

“This lawsuit and its underlying issues are why transparency and FOIA are so important. One million website domains were seized in partnership with corporate industry representatives, and the public deserves to know which sites were seized, the process by which they were taken to ensure due process, and the level of involvement corporate interests had on targeting sites to ensure the process was free of cronyism. These answers could be cleared up quickly if the government had responded properly to our client’s FOIA and produced responsive records.”

Techdirt is a news site, operated by Michael Masnick and Floor64, that relies on a proven economic framework to analyze and offer insight into news stories about changes in government policy, technology, and legal issues that affect companies’ ability to innovate and grow.

Michael Masnick, founder of Floor64 and editor of Techdirt, issued the following statement:

“At Techdirt, we’ve been following ICE’s questionable website seizures, based solely on input from a few corporations, for years — including the fact that it has had to quietly return many of the domains it improperly seized. It is quite worrisome that after those past mistakes, ICE has now chosen to completely hide the ball and ignore lawful FOIA requests to avoid scrutiny of its process for censoring websites.”

Background

In November 2018, ICE issued a press release touting its enforcement efforts in “Operation In Our Sites,” a global operation aiming to combat copyright-infringement, announcing the seizure of more than one million website domains through “combined efforts of law-enforcement agencies across the world, high-profile industry representatives and anti-counterfeiting associations.”

In response, Mr. Masnick of Techdirt submitted a FOIA request to the agency seeking access to the information ICE advertised in their release: a list of the domains seized, court filings relating to the seized domains, and email communications with the high-profile industry representatives and anti-counterfeiting associations mentioned.

ICE issued a determination in February 2019, stating that it had found no responsive records to Techdirt’s request. After a successful appeal, the FOIA request was remanded to the ICE FOIA Office, but the agency has failed to produce responsive records.

Complaint, Floor64 v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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Media ContactMatt Frendewey, matt.frendewey@causeofaction.org | 202-699-2018