Feds scoop up 132 websites in annual Cyber Monday ritual

The Department of Homeland Security celebrated a holiday tradition of its own today by announcing the seizure of dozens of domain names that were allegedly used to sell fake consumer swag like jerseys and jewelry.

Once again, the seizures came with fancy code names — “Project Monday 3” and “Project Transatlantic” — and were touted by various federal agencies, including the Justice Department and ICE. This year’s event had a continental flavor thanks to the seizure of 31 European domain names, including those ending in .eu, .be, .dk, .fr, .ro and .uk.

The seizure of 132 sites are part of a twice-yearly ritual that the government conducts on Cyber Monday and shortly before the Super Bowl. The idea is to stand up for intellectual property owners and to protect consumers from buying bogus goods.

The law enforcement actions are by and large justified. After all, trademark law forbids selling fake Tiffany jewelry or Nike shoes on the street or in a store. Should the rules be different online?

But while the enforcement goals may be legitimate, some of the government’s tactics are questionable at best. Why, for instance, is this vested under the Department of Homeland Security? Isn’t this agency supposed to be finding Al Qaeda members rather than patrolling the internet for fake Tom Brady jerseys?

Likewise, the government’s authority to grab the domain names may rest on shaky legal ground. As we’ve reported before, the feds are relying on seizure laws intended to confiscate the property of drug dealers — and in some cases are using the seized sites to play copyright propaganda without any apparent legal right to do so.

The feds’ announcement did not identify which websites they seized but the information will come out in coming days.