Print 46 comment(s) - last by icanhascpu.. on Feb 28 at 2:21 PM

Many small businesses whose sites were hosted by FreeDNS fell victim to an overzealous government takedown and had to explain to customers why their webpage redirected to warning about the distribution of child pornography.  (Source: FreeDNS)
Government believed the sites contained child pornography, but they did not

In evidence of the dangers of the U.S. government's increasing "kill switch" powers regarding web servers inside the U.S., the Department of Justice and Homeland Security’s ICE last week essentially shut down 84,000 sites in a case of mistaken identity.

The shutdowns targeted, the most popular shared domain at free web service provider FreeDNS.  FreeDNS is a free domain service that is immensely popular among file sharers, blogs, small businesses, and other independent operators.  Its homepage is

With the shutdown last Friday, the ICE accidentally shut down 84,000 subdomain pages.  The pages were all redirected to a banner that stated "Advertisement, distribution, transportation, receipt, and possession of child pornography constitute federal crimes that carry penalties for first time offenders of up to 30 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution."

The court order to shut down and redirect the sites was granted via a seizure warrant from a District Court.  The warrant was executed as part of the DHS ICE team's "Operation Save Our Children".

The key problem is that none of the sites thus identified under the superdomain had child porn on them.  They appear to have been the victim of an overzealous government police force with a bit too much power on its hands.

FreeDNS has expressed outrage.  In a statement, they comment, " has never allowed this type of abuse of its DNS service. We are working to get the issue sorted as quickly as possible."

Over the weekend they managed to begin restoring some of the pages.  Meanwhile small business owners were left to try to reassure customers that they were note engaging in illegal activity [source example].

The DHS is actually bragging about the takedowns citing 10 child porn sites that were taken offline, but conveniently forgetting to mention the 84,000 legitimate sites it also killed.  Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano states [press release]:

Each year, far too many children fall prey to sexual predators and all too often, these heinous acts are recorded in photos and on video and released on the Internet...DHS is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to shut down websites that promote child pornography to protect these children from further victimization.

The DHS has not yet released an official statement on the abuse of power.  It also has yet to comment on whether it plans to compensate webpage owners for lost business or damage to their websites. 

Website owners can still replicate the redirect by adding "" to their hosts file.

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What needs to happen now
By marvdmartian on 2/17/2011 11:34:20 AM , Rating: 5
1. The US government needs to make just as public of an apology to the site owners, ensuring that the general public knows that those sites were NOT at fault.
2. The clown that allowed this to happen (Janet Napolitano) needs to be FIRED . Not just for this, but for her continuing grand stupidity in everything related to her job. How this fool ever was approved for her position is entirely beyond my scope of understanding!

The owners of the sites affected need to sue the parties involved for slander, if #1, above, doesn't happen. Too easily is a person's reputation tarnished, and not often enough is the fool who mistakenly did so punished in any way.

RE: What needs to happen now
By wiz220 on 2/17/2011 5:36:08 PM , Rating: 5
The owners of the sites affected need to sue the parties involved for slander

Well, luckily for the government, they decide when they can and cannot be sued ;)

RE: What needs to happen now
By chick0n on 2/18/2011 1:24:53 AM , Rating: 2

this will be their excuse

"We're here to protect our people ! This could be used to raise funds for TERRORIST so what we did was the right thing"

case closed-

notice the magic word? it can throw any lawsuit out of the window.

RE: What needs to happen now
By xrodney on 2/18/2011 2:52:54 AM , Rating: 3
Perhaps can do that if only US is involved, but how many of those 84 thousand websites were international ?
US GOV can think they are king of the hill on they own playground, but still need to obey on international level.

RE: What needs to happen now
By leuNam on 2/18/2011 1:57:17 PM , Rating: 2
You're's a bad bill;
:Internet is increasingly becoming the backbone of American commerce and communication. Efforts to cede control of it to the government ought to be carefully scrutinized, if not completely rebuffed."

RE: What needs to happen now
By roykahn on 2/19/2011 10:48:53 PM , Rating: 2
Can I join in this fun?

If you're against the kill switch then you're supporting terrorism. Only the government can determine who is a terrorist. Friends of the US government are not terrorists, enemies are. Pretty much as simple as that. For example, many people were labelling Wikileaks a terrorist organisation, right? What a joke.

RE: What needs to happen now
By AnnihilatorX on 2/21/2011 12:48:07 PM , Rating: 2
Terrorists selling child porn to fund bombings, who'd have not thought, very clever.

RE: What needs to happen now
By AnnihilatorX on 2/21/2011 12:49:16 PM , Rating: 3
Not to mention that's like admitting this condemnment of child pornography is not for the safety and benefit of the children in question, but for the sake of against terrorism.

Proofread please
By SpinCircle on 2/17/2011 11:07:25 AM , Rating: 2
Meanwhile small business owners were left to try to reassure customers that they were engaging in illegal activity

I think you mean "that they were 'NOT' engaging in illegal activity"

RE: Proofread please
By StraightCashHomey on 2/17/2011 11:12:58 AM , Rating: 5
Minor details.

RE: Proofread please
By FaceMaster on 2/17/2011 11:39:56 AM , Rating: 5
Minor details.

No, they were trying to assure their customers that there were NO pictures of minors' details.

RE: Proofread please
By icanhascpu on 2/28/2011 2:21:33 PM , Rating: 2
This deserves a 6!

Wait, no...

RE: Proofread please
By snakeInTheGrass on 2/17/2011 11:30:41 AM , Rating: 5
po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

I'm sure someone will be along shortly to explain how if these businesses have nothing to hide, they shouldn't be bothered by the government being able to shut them down (hey, and maybe seize their assets!) with no governance or burden of proof. It's all good, right? ;)

RE: Proofread please
By wordsworm on 2/18/2011 2:40:28 AM , Rating: 2
Probably someone told the police that there was a site with naked miners.

kill the DHS
By puckalicious on 2/17/2011 11:40:49 AM , Rating: 5
Another glaring example of the DHS overstepping its bounds. There is no reason for the dept of redundancy dept that is the DHS other than to create a police state where our rights no longer apply.

RIP 4th amendment we hardly knew ye.

RE: kill the DHS
By dgingeri on 2/17/2011 11:51:30 AM , Rating: 5
I doubt very much that this was as much of an accident as more of a test of boundaries by DHS.

The greatest threat to democracy is a bureaucracy that is out of reach from the common people. Currently, we have many.

RE: kill the DHS
By bah12 on 2/18/2011 9:12:17 AM , Rating: 2
But this wasn't a 4ht amendment breach. There was a warrant. Don't blame the DHS for what is clearly a judicial mistake. The warrant should not have been this broad, and in our system the way you keep the DHS in check is via the warrant granting process of the judicial branch. You should really be chastising the judge that allowed this.

RE: kill the DHS
By Shadowmaster625 on 2/17/2011 4:08:56 PM , Rating: 1
What do you mean hardly? Most people dont have the slightest damn clue what the 4th amendment is and couldnt care less anyway.

Small Business Supervillians?
By bigdawg1988 on 2/17/2011 11:21:28 AM , Rating: 5
Meanwhile small business owners were left to try to reassure customers that they were engaging in illegal activity [source example].

Wow, small business criminal websites. Must be for those startup supervillians.


RE: Small Business Supervillians?
By dgingeri on 2/17/2011 11:46:41 AM , Rating: 2
They'd have to include Dr. Horrible's site in there.


Not "the system's" fault
By Suntan on 2/17/11, Rating: 0
RE: Not "the system's" fault
By Sazabi19 on 2/17/2011 1:32:12 PM , Rating: 5
Lol, it's a judge dude, have you ever actually met one? They are above the law and MOST of them are pompous pricks, though every now and then you will meet one that takes the job seriously and doesn't let it blow more air up their ass.

RE: Not "the system's" fault
By chick0n on 2/18/2011 1:30:01 AM , Rating: 2
This is how a US Judge act like :

they all think they are ABOVE the law (they are actually)

This is about censorship not saving the children
By HrilL on 2/17/2011 12:23:53 PM , Rating: 1
How does seizing a domain that has child pron protect the children?
1) These children were already molested, photographed and/or videoed.

2) Why are they not going after the actual hosts of these sites instead of seizing a domain? If only the domain is seized then that site is actually still there. Its like taking someones address away but their house is still there.

3) The government and politicians are always so quick to claim protecting the children when they work toward adding new censorship laws and powers. These children are already be exploited and law enforcement acts like these seizures are actually doing something to stop that exploitation. This is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

4) The legality of these types of seizures is quite troublesome. This is done without due process, and likely breaks the first and fourth amendments.

By RedemptionAD on 2/19/2011 10:38:57 PM , Rating: 2
The problem lies in the fact that every country outside the us doesn't have or doesn't actively enforce child porn laws. Which means keep shutting down the sites all they want the sources are the other countries. The way to handle it would be to apply political pressure to those places to create or start to actively enforce the child porn laws and stop the majority of the places from creating it to begin with.

By RedemptionAD on 2/19/2011 11:01:30 PM , Rating: 2
So in other words its not that they have too much power, its that "they're holding it wrong."

By HrilL on 2/22/2011 2:35:35 PM , Rating: 2
What you're missing is Child Porn is already being blocked and censored in the US. The ISPs volunteered to do this after a little government pressure a while ago. The new law it to gain more control. Also this only allows the government to take control of US owned domains so .com .net .us and a few others. If they're not in US control then the domain can't be seized.

Like i said before seizing a domain doesn't take the site down its like taking someones address away but their house is still there. If you know then location you can still get there. Most sites that have been taken down so far with DHS seizures were back up with no domains within an hour anyway so this is a pointless law that will likely be abused to censor content that the government and entertainment industries don't agree with.

well that's it
By zmatt on 2/17/2011 12:12:34 PM , Rating: 3
They had their chance, we should take this law to court and have it struck down immediately. The government has no right to do such a thing and they obviously lack the skill to use it even if they did. Freedns should also sue ICE for lost revenue and clients.

We let them take our freedom so they can defend our freedom.

By espaghetti on 2/18/2011 1:09:41 AM , Rating: 3
No seriously -

This Is Why...
By mmatis on 2/17/11, Rating: 0
RE: This Is Why...
By YashBudini on 2/20/2011 12:37:24 PM , Rating: 2
Last I looked nobody on Wall St was in jail.

Sue the effing government
By IvanAndreevich on 2/17/2011 3:00:34 PM , Rating: 2
For libel, defamation. Undoubtedly some people lost clients and business because of this.

Government accuracy
By Jalek on 2/18/2011 1:22:24 AM , Rating: 2
Take down 80,000 to get 10.
Sounds like government as usual.

Now for those 79,990 to prove their innocence one at a time.

the good thing is...
By superPC on 2/17/2011 11:15:54 AM , Rating: 1
the takedown process is transparent. you can see which branch of the government is doing the takedown and for what reason.

at least that makes it easier for anyone that has a problem with the takedown to sue someone (or maybe just hack the hell out of them)

By Sazabi19 on 2/17/2011 11:53:52 AM , Rating: 1
Shutting down these sites WILL NOT prevent children from being molested or abused, it will just stop some of the pictures/videos from going around. They are acting like what they are doing is saving children when all they are doing is punishing people who want to view it. This will save no one accept if they catch the people who are in the videos/pictures.

By wiz220 on 2/17/2011 5:34:02 PM , Rating: 1

...kept going through my head at the end of the article, take down almost 100k sites to net 10 actual offending sites, well done guys!

They have a court order.
By Cr0nJ0b on 2/17/11, Rating: -1
RE: They have a court order.
By MrBlastman on 2/17/2011 11:30:04 AM , Rating: 5
but again, the court agreed with the police request...and that's all it really takes...

And that is the problem. The checks and balances in the system failed. The burden of suspicion was not pointed or scruitinzed enough. The judge basically told them, "Sure, we'll let you shut it down," without realizing first the full ramifications of their actions.

This is why it is dangerous. Anyone in the system trying to conduct abuse can use this in a malicious manner if they want. If they are going to have such a system to shut sites down, judges should ask for far more evidence and also require specific subdomains to be identified before allowing a complete domain to be shut down.

RE: They have a court order.
By therealnickdanger on 2/17/2011 11:57:23 AM , Rating: 2
Look at Egypt. It may sound far-fetched, but what if the government here will need to shut down social networking sites or the whole Internet for the sake of "homeland security" because of Code Pink or Earth Liberation Front or Tea Party rallies/riots? I'm not trying to compare the organizations, just trying to make a point that we could very easily cross that line between freedom of speech and supression of speech. What if the government turned off newspapers or TV?

As much as I hate the idea of Comcast or Qwest throttling bandwidth (more) to certain sites or download methods and tiered service, I hate the consequences of government regulation even more. At least with the former, the consumer voice (our wallets) is faster and more potent to enact change. With the latter, the voting voice is much slower and it is more difficult to enact change. Politicians often won't even listen to their constituents.

With private regulation, it might potentially be more difficult or more expensive to access certain sites or get truthful information from other parts of the world, but with government regulation, it could be impossible to access. Not a risk I want to take.

I like the concept of Net Neutrality, but even the government's limited regulation carries with it some severe potential consequences. There's got to be a better way.

RE: They have a court order.
By TheDoc9 on 2/17/2011 1:24:44 PM , Rating: 2
I like how you group the tea party with the elf and code pink. As if the tea party is a terrorist group.

The plug for the Orwellian 'Net Neutrality' bill was a nice touch too.

RE: They have a court order.
By therealnickdanger on 2/18/2011 9:43:48 AM , Rating: 2
I like how you group the tea party with the elf and code pink.

I like how you don't read:
I'm not trying to compare the organizations, just trying to make a point that we could very easily cross that line between freedom of speech and supression of speech.

Substitute whatever political group you want - again I say that's not the point.

Plug for net neutrality? I'm opposed to it, you dolt! LOL, doesn't anyone read anymore?

RE: They have a court order.
By Kurz on 2/18/2011 10:25:55 AM , Rating: 2
They see only what they want to see.
People don't make time to criticaly think any more.

They just see ooo Patriot Act, Yes I am a Patriot vote for it. Or I want to give aid to poor college students by giving more people subsidies when it just increases the price for everyone else in the system.

Consquences of things that happen in History should be our guides however no one bothers looking at it.

RE: They have a court order.
By thurston on 2/18/2011 9:12:53 PM , Rating: 2
Please tell me what violent acts Code Pink have perpetrated. Though I do imagine that Lauren Valle felt a little terrorized when a Tea Partier was stomping on her head.

RE: They have a court order.
By theslug on 2/17/2011 1:46:29 PM , Rating: 2
I agree that the best way to vote is with our wallets, but the problem is in many areas, there's only one viable option for Internet connectivity. This is why network neutrality is critical - so you can continue using that provider without fear of them outright blocking you to the sites you go to and slowing everyone down significantly (except to their own services). Sure, if there were several providers in a given area, and one of them attempted that, then you'd cancel your service and go with someone else.

So kind of regulation is needed for ISPs to prevent that very sort of misbehavior, whether it be from the government or not.

RE: They have a court order.
By myhipsi on 2/18/2011 8:47:28 AM , Rating: 2
So called "Net Neutrality" is a "solution" looking for a non-existent problem. The internet has been just fine since its inception with no government regulation. We don't need to destroy the internet to save it.

By snakeInTheGrass on 2/17/2011 11:40:54 AM , Rating: 3
'...[they] make this type of error all the time' doesn't sound like an endorsement for giving them this kind of authority. It's more like if 10 houses in a neighborhood had illegal activity going on, and the cops accidentally kick in the door / arrest / put up the crime scene tape on 84,000 other homes in the same zip code. Oops!

If freedns was alerted to the problem and failed to act, then I imagine they could be held accountable, otherwise it's the specific clients, not, as you'd apparently like to think, the whole neighborhood. Or is your theory that to get to their own pages they first had to travel through the child porn? (Which might be more like granny in the same house...)

In any case, fun for the legit businesses to have to explain that no, really, we're legit, ignore the bit government redirect about you going to prison!

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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