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article imageOp-Ed: Internet censorship and how it can affect innocent websites

By Anne Sewell     Mar 4, 2012 in Internet
In just two examples of internet censorship gone wrong, 92,000 innocent websites lost business and possibly also their good reputation.
There has been much talk about internet censorship in recent months with protests worldwide against these draconian measures.
Here are a couple of the many reasons why internet censorship is a bad thing, which can affect innocent websites and cause loss of business to their owners:
Example 1:
On 17th February 2011, RT reported that the US had mistakenly shut down 84,000 websites, wrongfully accused of having links to child pornography during a child porn raid.
The operation was called "Operation Protect Our Children," and was a joint operation between the US Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.
During the operation they served seizure warrants against ten domain names of websites alleged to have been involved in child porn.
Unfortunately, in the process, they also mistakenly seized a large DNS service provider. This provider, owned by FreeDNS hosts some 84,000 domains - none of which are connected to child pornography. Upon seizure Homeland Security took the sites offline and replaced them with a Homeland Security Investigations banner.
The banner said: “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.”
Hmmm, not good for business!
FreeDNS said in a statement, “On Friday February 11th at around 9:30 PM PST (the most popular shared domain at was suspended at the registrar level. has never allowed this type of abuse of its DNS service. We are working to get the issue sorted as quickly as possible.”
It took approximately 3 days to get the websites back up and running. 84,000 websites lost untold business over that three day period, plus the added bonus of the degradation on their reputations as legitimate websites.
Example 2:
On 2 March 2012, RT reported on a similar situation in Denmark - also connected with child pornography.
That day Danish visitors to Facebook and Google had a shock when they logged on and were confronted with the following message:
“The National High Tech Crime Center of the Danish National Police [NITEC], who assist in investigations into crime on the Internet, has informed Siminn Denmark A/S, that the Internet page which your browser has tried to contact may contain material which could be regarded as child pornography.”
Yes, Facebook and Google! Along with approximately 8,000 other websites.
Apparently this was a "human error" by Danish Police, which labelled a huge portion of the internet as a "sexual predator".
According to NITEC chief Johnny Lundberg, it didn’t take much for this to occur. Apparently it began when an employee at the police center swapped seats with his colleague:
“He sat down and was about to make an investigation, and in doing so he placed a list of legitimate sites in the wrong folder,” Lundberg said. “Before becoming aware of the error, two ISPs retrieved the list of sites.”
With a few misguided mouse clicks, police were able to blacklist 8,000 websites instantly.
Although NITEC fixed the problem as speedily as possible, it still took over three hours for the affected users to regain access to the targeted sites.
Denmark’s IT-Political Association says that the blackout blunder points to the perils of ISPs cooperating with police on online security without judicial oversight.
“Today’s story shows that the police are not able to secure against manual errors that could escalate into something that actually works as a ‘kill switch’ for the Internet,” the group said in a statement.
The mind boggles at how many more of these "errors" could be made - anyone working on the internet and owning websites is understandably nervous. Even though SOPA and PIPA are effectively dead, and hopefully ACTA will soon follow them, even without these draconian measures there are more and more occurrences of this nature, endangering the free internet.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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