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DHS and ICE busy before Super Bowl securing stadium and IP rights

Napolitano at Super Bowl XLVI

As their boss touted this year’s Super Bowl as one of the most secure in history, U.S. customs agents were busy extending protections beyond the physical venue and into intellectual property on the Web, seizing Websites selling fake National Football League gear and busting apparel and souvenir counterfeiters.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced on Feb. 1 a partnership with the NFL to expand the agency’s “If you see something, say something” public awareness campaign.

She also said security at the game at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium would be “unprecedented” and that the department had seen no credible or specific threats to the Super Bowl. The DHS blog said on Feb. 2 that Napolitano had toured the stadium and met with law enforcement officials there. The agency said it was helping Lucas Oil Stadium and other entertainment and hospitality venues throughout the Indianapolis area to identify and address potential risks. It said it was also providing “First Observer” anti-terrorism and security awareness training to more than 8,000 stadium staff and volunteers, helping secure transit to and from the stadium with Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams, and scanning all of the cargo entering the stadium for contraband, such as narcotics, weapons and explosives.

DHS’ mission extended beyond the physical venue, however.

At an NFL news conference on Feb. 2, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials said their agents had seized more than $4.8 million in fake NFL merchandise and 307 websites during 'Operation Fake Sweep' in the days leading up to the game on Feb. 5.

ICE Director John Morton, CBP Director of Field Operations in Chicago David Murphy and NFL Vice President for Legal Affairs Anastasia Danias said the record-breaking seizures were the result of a nationwide enforcement operation targeting stores, flea markets and street vendors selling counterfeit game-related sportswear throughout the country. Special agents and officers also targeted illegal counterfeit imports into the U.S. and seized hundreds of websites engaged in counterfeiting and piracy online. The initiative, dubbed Operation Fake Sweep, began Oct. 1, 2011, said ICE.

ICE Homeland Security Investigation (ICE HSI) special agents seized a total of 307 websites. Sixteen of those sites, said the agency, illegally streamed live sporting telecasts over the Internet, including NFL games. Two hundred ninety-one website domain names were illegally selling and distributing counterfeit merchandise, it said.

Additionally, HSI agents arrested a Comstock Park, MI man, Yonjo Quiroa, 28, on a count of criminal copyright infringement related to his operation of websites that, ICE said illegally streamed live sporting event telecasts and pay-per-view events over the Internet. Quiroa operated nine of the 16 streaming websites that were seized, and he operated them from his home in Michigan until his Feb. 1 arrest.

The most recent website seizures, said ICE represent the 10th phase of Operation In Our Sites, a long-term initiative targeting counterfeiting and piracy on the Internet. The 307 websites are in the process of being seized by law enforcement, and will soon be in the custody of the federal government, said ICE.

HSI and officers with CBP also seized “hard goods,” as well working with the NFL and various law enforcement agencies throughout the nation to identify illegal shipments imported into the U.S., as well as stores and vendors selling counterfeit trademarked items.  Over 40,000 fake jerseys, ball caps, t-shirts, jackets and other souvenirs, were seized in the run-up to Super Bowl XLVI, said ICE.

"While most people are focusing on whether the Patriots or Giants will win on Sunday, we at ICE have our sights on a different type of victory: defeating the international counterfeiting rings that illegally profit off of this event, the NFL, its players and sports fans," said ICE Director Morton. "In sports, players must abide by rules of the game, and in life, individuals must follow the laws of the land. Our message is simple: abiding by intellectual property rights laws is not optional; it's the law."

"The NFL is committed to protecting fans and local businesses from being victimized by counterfeiters who are looking to profit illegally off of the public's enthusiasm for the NFL," said NFL Vice President Danias. "We are grateful for Homeland Security Investigations' tireless efforts in combating intellectual property theft and are pleased to be working along with them and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department on this important issue."