Child porn takedown hits thousands of innocent sites

Posted by Emma Woollacott

An anti-child pornography exercise saw 84,000 websites shut down over the weekend - rather than the 10 which were actually being targeted.

The Department of Justice and Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was engaged in Operation Protect Our Children, targeting sites offering child pornography.

Read the official statement, and it sounds as if it all went like a dream.

"The production and distribution of child pornography wreak havoc on innocent lives," says assistant attorney general Lanny A Breuer of the Department of Justice.

"With these domain seizures, we are taking our fight against child pornography to websites that facilitate the exchange of these abusive images."

Unfortunately, though, the ICE team was a little over-enthusiastic, additionally taking down tens of thousands of legitimate sites also hosted by FreeDNS's dynamic DNS service afraid.org, and in particular subdomains beneath mooo.com. It slapped a banner on their pages labeling them child pornographers.

"An order taking down a legal website is a prior restraint on speech, and we don't generally allow such an order unless the restraint is narrowly tailored to a specific and lawful objective," says Corynne McSherry of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "This takedown appears to have been anything but 'narrowly tailored'."

FreeDNS was forced to go along with the action, but under protest: "freedns.afraid.org has never allowed this type of abuse of its DNS service," it says on its website. Service was restored on Sunday, but the 'child pornography' banner has only now disappeared from some of the innocent sites.

"Pulling a total domain, sweeping up innocent people along the way, feeling that you don't have to comply with due process of law and indicating that you don't give a damn is wrong," says one affected site owner. "It's not as wrong as child pornography or counterfeiting, but it's still wrong."