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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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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.

"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

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