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Leaked Diplomatic Cables: ICE Planned Piracy Topsites Infiiltration

Posted by: , 17:06 AEST, Tue September 6, 2011

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Wikileaks provides details of law enforcement tactics in taking down piracy topsites, including getting content holders to provide re-release content to gain trust of topsite operators

Wikileaks recently helped to reveal the extent of U.S. involvement in an Australian legal battle, and now further leaked diplomatic cables show that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has managed to infiltrate the higher echelons of the piracy scene as well.

A cable written by the U.S. ambassador in South Korea Kathleen Stephens in 2009 detailed a meeting in which South Korean law enforcement met with ICE officials, and also officials from the lobby groups, the IFPI and the MPAA. Just the nature of the meeting showed the far reach that American copyright lobbying groups have, not just within the U.S. government and law enforcement agencies, but also within foreign governments, but the meeting itself was set up to discuss the issue of taking action against topsites.

Topsites are high speed servers used by release groups to disseminate releases to the wider public, and this kind of "pyramid" release scheme means that topsites are a top priority for copyright enforcement. But the nature of topsites, in that only trusted members have access, meant that it was always difficult for law enforcement agencies to take down these sites. 

"Locating and penetrating topsites are extremely challenging because people can only gain access by proving that they can make a valuable contribution and gaining trust over an extended period of time. Access to topsite servers is encrypted and shielded and the operators respond to indications of investigation by legal authorities by destroying critical evidence and rapidly moving the servers," explained Stephens in the cable.

And after failures by the South Korean law enforcement agencies in this area, the meeting was arranged so ICE officials could share their intel and methods. And it was at this point in the meeting, Ambassador Stephens writes, that ICE revealed a strategy that could allow them to infiltrate topsites.

The technique discussed involved getting copyright holders to leak pre-release content to the agencies, and an undercover operation was initiated in which the ICE agent would use the intentionally leaked content to gain trust and access to topsites. At that time, details of the topsite would be recorded and sent to prosecutors to take further action.

It was also noted that ISPs would not be notified of impending action, as ICE suspected some ISPs were acting in collusion with topsites.

With many topsites being the target of raids recently, it's very likely that ICE's detailed strategy, or some variant of it, has worked effectively in targeting the source of pirated content on the Internet. 


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