LegitScript and Knujon have published a report on Save Habor for Illegal Internet Pharmacies.. We at SFA thought the public at large should view this report.
! The Internet is sometimes said to be the “Wild West” a place without any rules. The sentiment is understandable, but incorrect: the Internet does have rules. These rules are supposed to ensure the growth of the Internet in a way that fosters legitimate personal and commercial activity, but prevents an out-of-control explosion of fraud and crime.
! In this report, we examine how Domain Name Registrars companies that are supposed to follow those rules responded when put to the test. From November 2009 through April 2010, the authors provided evidence to over a dozen Domain Name Registrars establishing that each companyʼs paid domain name registration services were being used by one or more Internet drug rings to register websites engaged in criminal and fraudulent activity. The authors then asked the Registrars to enforce their own Terms and Conditions regarding each website.
The Internet rule that is most pertinent to this report is straightforward. Domain Name Registrars companies like GoDaddy, Network Solutions, eNom and others who rgister domain names are required by ICANN, the organization that accredits (and can e-accredit) them, to prohibit website owners from using their domains for unlawful purposes. Without exception, this rule is also reflected in each Registrarʼs Terms and Conditions, thus formalizing and protecting the companyʼs contractual right to suspend domain names for unlawful activity. Once a Registrar becomes aware that a website is engaged in criminal activity, the company has the legal authority and technical ability to suspend the domain name, rendering the illegal and fraudulent content inaccessible. This self-policing is meant to balance freedom of speech with safety and legitimacy as the Internet continues to evolve.
But all too often, Registrars simply turn a blind eye to criminal activity. After all, Registrars have an inherent financial conflict of interest: on the one hand, they are supposed to adhere to the policy requiring them to prohibit unlawful activity; on the other hand, they stay in business from the registration and re-registration fees that website owners pay to keep those very websites online. As for-profit companies, Registrars will readily shut down a website that fails to pay annual re-registration fees. But as we show, not all Registrars will suspend a domain name if presented with irrefutable evidence that the customer is using the website to commit fraud or a crime.
To document this, the authors provided indisputable evidence to these Domain Name Registrars that websites were displaying a forged pharmacy license and/or selling drugs without requiring a prescription. Our evidence included letters from the government agencies that license pharmacies stating that the pharmacy “license” displayed on the websiteʼs home page was a forgery. In other cases, the website clearly and overtly advertised prescription drugs such as Vicodin, Viagra or OxyContin “without a prescription.”
Additionally, most of the US-based Registrars identified in this report had, in late 2008, received a letter from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) informing them that the NABP had
recognized LegitScriptʼs standards for Internet pharmacy verification, and asking those Registrars to work with LegitScript to identify “rogue” Internet pharmacies misusing those companiesʼ domain name
registration services. The intent of these letters was to request that the Registrars give credence to LegitScriptʼs notifications, based on the NABPʼs recognition of LegitScriptʼs program, and the NABPʼs
own status as the organization that represents pharmacy-related regulatory authorities.
The good news is, most of the Registrars we contacted acted to prevent the further use of their services by websites engaged in illegal or fraudulent activity. Part of the reason for this report is to
recognize and applaud the actions taken by those Registrars, including GoDaddy, Directi, SpiritDomain, and several others.