Homeland Security has 'zero interest' in limits on speech, official says

A top Homeland Security official says he is "unapologetic" about a government effort to shut down questionable websites, insisting that the department is not infringing on free speech with this method of chasing crime on the Internet. 

John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Homeland Security Department, said his organization has "zero interest in limiting free speech."

In a keynote address at the State of the Net conference on Tuesday, Morton said the department targets rogue websites because the "same rules must apply" online and offline. 

"ICE is not the police of the Internet," he said.

"We will follow criminal activity wherever it occurs, including the Internet," Morton said.

When ICE began shutting down websites that sell counterfeit goods, it had an enormous deterrent effect on other rogue sites, according to Morton.

Seizing eight domain names led over 80 others rogue sites to shut down on their own, he said. 

"I've never seen that kind of deterrence come from a single law enforcement action before," he said. 

When ICE shut down the sites, it replaced them with a seizure notice. (For instance, try borntrade.com.)

This prompted an "odd phenomenon," according to Morton: The seizure pages began to get more traffic than the sites ever did. 

"People wanting to go see the government seizure notice, just to see," he said.  

Morton said the effort has been praised by rights holders, criticized by some and watched "with curiosity by many."