Tuesday, February 22, 2011
US domain seizures disable 84,000 websites
Thousands of legitimate websites were apparently accidentally taken offline last week, when the US Departments for Justice and Homeland Security seized the domains of websites allegedly hosting counterfeiting and child sexual abuse content (also reported here and here).
It appears that the DHS unknowingly targetted the dynamic DNS service afraid.org, which provides URLs for 84,000 websites under subdomains of mooo.com. As a result, thousands of innocent website owners found their homepages replaced with the following message:
The seizure of mooo.com was reversed last Sunday, but at the time of writing the DHS is yet to publically acknowledge its mistake.
Domain seizures have become a subject of controversy in the US, where copyright-related seizures have become increasingly commonplace. Critics claim that the practice violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution by placing a “prior restraint” on speech.
The practice is likely to re-ignite long-standing international concerns about the US government’s privileged relationship with ICANN. Foreign governments, especially those in the Middle East under pressure from a populace newly empowered by the Internet, will draw attention to the contrast between this US action to enforce its own laws and its support for unrestricted free speech abroad.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Nominet is consulting on its own domain deletion policies. The US mistake will give Nominet reason to be very careful about adopting procedures that give an unbalanced assumption of authority to law enforcement complaints.