Better That 83,990 Be Libeled Than 10 Go Free

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Last weekend, visitors to some 84,000 websites, mostly personal and small business sites, saw this pop up on their screens:

The domain seizures were part of “Operation Save Our Children,” which according to a Department of Homeland Security press release, nabbed 10 websites that were distributing child pornography.

The problem for the other 83,990 domain owners is that for a couple days their sites were inaccessible to both owners and to readers/viewers/customers, and for up to six days the site owners were advertised to the world as suspected child pornographers. The DHS press release makes no mention of that.

From the file-sharing blog TorrentFreak:

As with previous seizures, ICE convinced a District Court judge to sign a seizure warrant, and then contacted the domain registries to point the domains in question to a server that hosts the warning message. However, somewhere in this process a mistake was made and as a result the domain of a large DNS service provider was seized.

The domain in question is mooo.com, which belongs to the DNS provider FreeDNS. It is the most popular shared domain at afraid.org and as a result of the authorities’ actions a massive 84,000 subdomains were wrongfully seized as well. All sites were redirected to the banner…

This seems to be part of a pattern in which DHS seizes and shuts down blocks of domains with little due process, though it’s more commonly done in copyright investigations.

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20 Responses to “Better That 83,990 Be Libeled Than 10 Go Free”

  1. #1 |  Brandon | 

    Proficient today, Radley. Far be it from me to criticize, but I think the comment threads in prior posts suffer when other things are quickly posted above them. Not that we’re missing out on anything by reading your typically superb posts; just a thought.

  2. #2 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Just a thought: “Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity”

    Seems to ME to be part of another pattern; aggressive cluelessness about computers on the part of the government. Not to say you aren’t right too.

  3. #3 |  Marty | 

    it’s like a digital scarlet letter… I wonder if any of the sites suffered to the point of not being able to recover?

  4. #4 |  BamBam | 

    It’s called a test run of the Internet kill switch that this Congressional session and presidential administration have been fond of discussing in the open. Don’t believe for a second that it hasn’t been discussed since Internet was invented. Government types always do role playing to shake out various scenarios under the guise of protecting you from your shadow.

    I’m sure there have been many discussions with the politicians in the recent rioting countries, especially Egypt, to learn from what they did wrong to shut down communication.

  5. #5 |  Tweets that mention Better That 83,990 Be Libeled Than 10 Go Free | The Agitator -- Topsy.com | 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lenore Skenazy, FoxArtCultTech. FoxArtCultTech said: Better That 83,990 Be Libeled Than 10 Go Free http://goo.gl/fb/q5bfi […]

  6. #6 |  M.A.DeLuca | 

    It isn’t a very good kill switch, BamBam. As I understand it, all ICE is doing is seizing domain names, not the actual servers. If you knew the dotted decimal IP address of the websites in question, you’d still be able to see the original, un-hijacked, content.

    Maybe it’s time to start caching prior DNS results … say the last five changes … and if a page returns an unexpected result, you can choose from one of the other cached IP addresses.

  7. #7 |  KBCraig | 

    Wasn’t FreeDNS a provider for Wikileaks? That’ll show ‘em!

  8. #8 |  Aresen | 

    It will be fun if they ever try this on a web host based in England, where the libel laws are much stricter.

    Not sure that British Courts would recognize the immunity of the DHS.

  9. #9 |  Marty | 

    #6 | M.A.DeLuca-

    I feel so dumb… how would I know the ‘dotted decimal ip address’ and what’s ‘DNS’- domain name search?

  10. #10 |  Mattocracy | 

    Holy shit. Somewhere at the DHS, there is a Sherrif Joe of the internet with horned rimmed glasses and a cowboy hat wondering if he can make website hosts wear pink underwear.

  11. #11 |  EH | 

    Marty:

    The “dotted decimal” is one form of the numerical address that every device on the internet has, similar to a home address. DNS is “domain name service,” which is software that is run everywhere in order to provide readable names for these numerical address.

    I have a computer next to me here that is on my DSL line serving my personal website out to the world, so it has one of these public numerical addresses, for instance 123.231.21.5 (there are rules about what the numbers are, but it’s not germane here). However, when I hand out my business card it says “http://www.eh.com/” and DNS is what connects the “www.eh.com,” a name that you can remember, to the machine’s IP address (123.231.21.5). Computers use the numbers, people use the letters and words, and DNS is a peer-to-peer directory for all of this stuff.

    I run my own DNS for my own handful of domains, and hosting companies typically run large DNS services for all of the websites they serve. It’s the domain-registrant’s choice and my closet DNS is just as authoritative for my domains as Comcast’s is for theirs.

    What happened here was that one of these large directories was taken down.

  12. #12 |  David | 

    I get that it might be necessary to seize a whole block of domains names for the reason that EH explained, but it is really necessary to put the “child pornography” bit up there?

  13. #13 |  Mike | 

    Justice would be: The DHS home page gets replaced by the child porn banner.

  14. #14 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Just a thought: “Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity”

    Sure, I’m pretty sure this was just stupidity. But if *I* broadcast to the world that somebody was into child pornography for a few days, then came back and said “oops, I was wrong”, I’d still be in big trouble.

  15. #15 |  Bergman | 

    Some houses have names. For example, The White House is the name of the residence located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.

    While doing so is fairly rare in the physical world, it’s so common on the internet as to be universal. For example, the website we’re posting on, http://www.theagitator.com is the name of the “house”, while a traceroute to the name of the site yields a final address of 64.49.221.11 which is the actual address of the machine the website is on.

  16. #16 |  perlhaqr | 

    I ran into one of those this week. It was… disconcerting.

    “Whoa, hey! That’s not what I was looking for!”

  17. #17 |  Nick T. | 

    Is there anything better than the brown-ish-pink outline with the word “Seized” written in burnt orange? That is awesome. It’s like something from an ad for a used car lot, only the word would be “Sale” or “Auction” or something.

  18. #18 |  BlueMoon | 

    Who will be next to have their website taken down by our government? The door is opened with “porn” but then that door is never closed.

    “The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from it’s government”. Thomas Paine

    I just read a new thriller that’s about revolution coming to America. It’s a must read cause it’s so true as we see our govt. taking down websites (maybe this one soon) and Wisconsin politicians hiding in another state.
    http://www.booksbyoliver.com

  19. #19 |  Southern Man | 

    Every single one of those sites should file a libel lawsuit. They won’t go anywhere, but maybe it’ll wake someone up.

  20. #20 |  John David Galt | 

    Perhaps some group like the EFF should start its own list of domain addresses, so that if this happens again, ordinary people can work around the blockade simply by pointing to EFF’s domain name server instead of an ICANN-approved one.

    I see no reason for people to put up with an “Internet kill switch” no matter whose hands are on it. The computers that comprise the Internet are our own.

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