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Rape in the DNS

It took three years for ICANN to issue a breach notice to BizCn over the invalid WHOIS record behind RAPETUBE[DOT]ORG. Throughout the history of this absurd case ICANN staff would repeatedly insist the record had been validated and the registrar was compliant, regardless of extensive evidence proving otherwise. Despite a letter sent to ICANN’s CEO and an investigation by the Washington Post, the Rape Tube stayed online. Before it was finally taken down, the site described itself thus:

“Welcome to Rape Tube – the biggest rape porn site for violent sex videos (movies). In our site you can find tons of videos full of teen rape, lesbian rape, hentai rape, gay rape and any other rape sex video you could imagine. There are regularly updates at the site. Become a member for free (instant registration) and submit your own videos, rate the vids you watched and join the community.”

In the process of investigating this domain we found dozens of others with “rape” in the title. While many immediately argue this is “fantasy” or free speech, It is important to recognize that “rape” is an industry on the Internet, a business model. The organizations behind these sites are purely commercial in nature; there is no artistic or documentary value. The lines of so called fantasy are completely blurred here and have real world victims.

Holly Jacobs has been fighting to get images removed of her posted on “revenge sites” with extreme difficulty and her case is not even the most shocking. Audrie Pott committed suicide after films of her sexual assault were posted by the assailants. This case in particular has highlighted a potentially dangerous trend which may not be fully understood. This includes the notorious Steubenville, Ohio case and another suicide in Nova Scotia. Courts have seen the danger of this material, even ordering the destruction of rape video evidence for fear the material would leak out and become salacious entertainment.

So the question arises: What is the responsibility of the Internet service provider in this? The images frequently depict apparent victims covered in blood, bruised, confined, or with weapons held closely to their bodies. The content is violent, shocking and grotesque. It is not “pornography” as rape by its very definition is a non-consensual act. A common practice among these sites is to mix images from different sources. Rape scenes from main-stream Hollywood movies are placed besides staged rapes and what appear to be real photos of crime scenes and even murder victims. As society in general becomes more aware of fact of rape and its impact, we must have this discussion within the scope of Internet policy, keeping in mind that the sites in question exist for the purpose of profit, profit which is based on exploiting individual horror. ICANN and their contracted parties have a role in the policy discussion. So we approached all the registrars who sponsored the rape sites and asked them about their policies with varying results.

Some registrars immediately responded by suspending the domains citing policy violations. Other registrars argued that because the sites were not illegal it would be censorship to remove them. This, of course, ignores the fact that rape content sites are illegal in several countries. As always, simply stating that a company will suspend a site if government orders them to is not a policy. While we were not necessarily happy with the answer of some registrars, at least they answered. This cannot be said of Moniker.


Ironically, Moniker does have a stated policy that this covers this content, which makes the lack of response or action puzzling:

Uploading, posting or otherwise transmitting any content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, slanderous, vulgar, obscene…or otherwise objectionable… Activities designed to encourage unlawful behavior by others… promoting physical harm against any group or individual

This is not about censoring the Net, this is about reasonableness. Does a registrar want this to be part of their portfolio? Is this what we envision when we think of a dynamic global network? It is up to us, the Internet can either be a garden of innovation or a hell littered with trash.

By Garth Bruen, Internet Fraud Analyst and Policy Developer

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What are law enforcement doing about these Kevin Murphy  –  Jun 24, 2014 8:30 AM

What are law enforcement doing about these sites?

LE Does what it can Garth Bruen  –  Jun 25, 2014 10:47 AM

Kevin, There was a massive recent sweep in the New York City area for human sex trafficking operators which included web-based components. It rescued victims and jailed the traffickers. There have been more and more of these as human sex trafficking moves more and more on the net. So, remember there are real victims here. Investigators are overwhelmed by all of this as the size and scope of the activity is shocking. The ease with which the sites can be deployed must be contrasted with the extreme difficulties in getting them removed. Take the case I review at the start of the article. It took three years to get ICANN to move against this violating registrar and its site. Consider that the "registrant" of RAPE TUBE was NOT defending the right to have this site up, they had in fact vanished completely. We're arguing over the "free expression" of someone who is not engaged in the debate. Meanwhile, fees were processed while the domain was in violation and ICANN stated the record had been verified. -Garth

ICANN is not a police agency Karl Auerbach  –  Jun 24, 2014 5:49 PM

Every interest is trying to play “pin the tail on the donkey” with ICANN.  Every interest wants ICANN enforce this or that rule.

And your article is an argument to pin yet another law enforcement tail onto ICANN.

I consider climate change to be an existential threat to humanity - so I’d like ICANN to pull the domain name of every climate denier.  But I know that that would wrong and largely ineffective.

ICANN is already a bloated regulatory body whose prying eyes and poking fingers go well beyond anything contemplated when ICANN was created.

As we have learned from hundreds of years of experience, regulatory bodies such as ICANN must be strictly limited and watched else they become opressive or instruments of those who happen to have control of the knobs and levers at any instant.

There is a parallel article in Circle-ID - http://www.circleid.com/posts/20140622_making_icann_history_in_the_shadow_of_the_magna_carta/ - that argues for limiting ICANN.

One of the reasons why ICANN is having such a tough time gaining independence is that it has too many glued-on jobs of convenience and far too little real accountability.

There are plenty of law enforcement agencies, they have the authority, the rules, and the procedures.  Take your complaint to them.  If they don’t act - then ask why.

Problems in response Garth Bruen  –  Jun 25, 2014 10:34 AM

Karl, I think you make a grave error in comparing a debate over climate science with photos and videos of specific human beings being targeted with violence, especially when the sites encourage members to "submit their own videos." Add on to this the fact that the providers and ICANN then cash a check for the sponsorship. ICANN doesn't simply provide a space for the web, they get paid for it which puts them in a conflicting position when it comes to removing items from the DNS since it is not in their financial interest. This is why the policy discussion happens within the community, because of ICANN's inherent conflict of interest. Additionally, the default response of "go to the police" is really bad policy. Not only does every issue end up getting routed through government (which is something the community it trying to avoid!) it becomes an ad-hoc layer of obfuscation since LE then becomes bogged up with these issues which are unlikely to get the attention they deserve as a result, but perhaps this is the goal of suggesting every domain complaint "go to the police." Saying ICANN should not police the Net is an invitation for government to police ICANN. I am saying WE in the community need to discuss and address these problems. -Garth

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