U.S. Government “Accidentally” Seizes and Shuts Down 84,000 Websites

DOJ seizes 80000 domains

Two months ago, we wrote about the U.S. Department of Justice’s largely unilateral seizure of domain names of commercial websites that were engaged in counterfeiting. We’ve now seen the danger of that process, with the government pulling a major “whoopsie” and mistakenly shutting down a large number of perfectly innocent sites, as the government went after child pornography sites.

As we previously discussed, the seizure process is one-sided, with a judge reviewing a Justice Department affidavit, with no input from the accused sites. Worse, the prior affidavit was based at least partially on information from the Motion Picture Association of America.

This time, the government goofed. The domain mooo.com, part of the DNS provider FreeDNS, was shut down in the process. Sites registered through mooo.com displayed a banner ad suggesting that the sites were engaged in child pornography. How many sites were affected? Try 84,000. It took a day and a half for the seizure to be reversed, and another three days for all the inflammatory banners to disappear.

Is anybody worried about the unilateral seizure of domain now? Or is this a price worth paying in the fight against child pornography?

U.S. Anti-Child Pornography Operation Accidentally Shuts Down 84,000 Sites [Huffington Post]


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Evan Kline

Hello, I'm Evan. I write about tech from my perspective – that of the average 40-something tech geek. You can also find me on Twitter and at my real-life job as a lawyer.    MORE ABOUT ME.

3 Comments:

  1. Ouch. Defamation lawsuits coming?

    The unilateral seizure is a tricky thing. If we spin this into a physical world example, are drug dealers allow to contest a seizure before it occurs? Of course not – it would allow them ample time to shift the contraband assets.

    Should a different standard be used in the digital world?

    One difference is that if you bust a place to seize drugs and no drugs are present, it’s obvious. With digital assets, it’s not always immediately apparent.

    In any case, it might be prudent to tone down the takedown message in case the seizure was done in error.

    • I don’t practice criminal law, but I think the government wouldn’t apply for a seizure of drug dealer’s contraband, but instead would apply for a search warrant, and then seize what they find.

      I don’t know how that corresponds to the digital world. We might not be able to compare apples to apples here. The big difference I see is the collateral damage that is done in the digital world- if they seize a DNS provider’s domain, it tanks tens of thousands of innocent sites. In short, I think we may need new rules in the digital age to deal with seizures like this. I just can’t see the government rushing to implement any rules that will limit its abilities to do something like this.

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