A large number number of websites suspected of conducting illegal activities, has been shut down in a campaign started last week, by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The government has taken over the domain names of at least 77 different sites, including the search engine torrent-finder.com, according to TorrentFreak.com, who has published a list of the affected websites.

“My domain has been seized without any previous complaint or notice from any court!” the exasperated owner of Torrent-Finder told TorrentFreak this morning.

“I firstly had DNS downtime. While I was contacting GoDaddy I noticed the DNS had changed. Godaddy had no idea what was going on and until now they do not understand the situation and they say it was totally from ICANN,” he explained.

The domain has been seized by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number), the organization which manages domain name system.

The closed websites are accused of distribution of illegal copies of movies, music and other material, or allowing the public to search for such material. Most of the affected websites has been concerned with the sale of fake branded products, including DVD’s and clothing, according to The New York Times.

All visits to the websites are now now being routed to a message from Homeland Security, which states that the domain name has been seized by the authorities.

“ICE office of Homeland Security Investigations executed court-ordered seizure warrants against a number of domain names,” said Cori W. Bassett, a spokeswoman for ICE, in a statement. “As this is an ongoing investigation, there are no additional details available at this time.”

The seizures comes as a new bill, the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA), was approved by a Senate committee last week. This bill allows the government to shut down sites that are “dedicated to infringing activities”. Critics believe that the wording is too unspecific and that it makes it possible to shut down websites that has nothing to do with illegal activities.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are among those who warn against the consequences. They see COICA as a censorship mechanism. A huge amount of content that does not infringe copyright may be affected, including hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire and RapidShare, according to EFF.

“Had this bill been passed five or ten years ago, YouTube might not exist today”, the organization says.

(via digi.no)