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Ruling near on state's plan to seize domain names

By Jaikumar Vijayan
January 12, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The Kentucky Court of Appeals is expected to issue a ruling soon on whether a state court can order the seizure of Internet domain names that are registered in another state or country.

The three-judge appeals panel is deliberating over whether to uphold a lower court's approval of a state plan to seize Internet domain names belonging to 141 online gambling sites.

Critics called the state's plan unconstitutional, illegal and unenforceable.

Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said that the agency sought to shutter the sites last year to protect state residents from an "illegal, unregulated and untaxed industry."

In September, Judge Thomas Wingate of the state's Franklin County Circuit Court approved the agency's request, ordering registrars of each of the 141 domains to transfer ownership to the "account of the commonwealth" without configuration changes. Wingate stayed the order pending a ruling by the appeals court.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, Matthew Zimmerman, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the ruling is "unconstitutional and [was] made without jurisdictional authority."

Zimmerman said he expects that the appeals court will issue a ruling later this month.

Anita Ramasastry, director of the Shidler Center for Law, Commerce & Technology at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, added that the ruling, if upheld, is probably unenforceable because all of the Web sites are registered outside of Kentucky. "One state is suddenly opining and acting in a way that has implications for people all over," she said in a blog post.

Nonetheless, Zimmerman said that it's likely that some operators will comply with the ruling simply to avoid legal hassles or potential threats to their reputations.

This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.

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