A child pornography investigation led to the unintentional temporary shutdown of thousands of lawfully operating Web sites last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has confirmed.
"During the course of a joint DHS and DOJ law enforcement operation targeting 10 Web sites providing explicit child pornographic content, a higher level domain name and linked sites were inadvertently seized for a period of time," an ICE spokepserson said in an e-mailed statement. "Those sites were restored as soon as possible to normal functionality."
The execution of seizure warrants against the 10 Web sites was lauded by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and other officials earlier this week.
News of the collateral damage arising from the domain seizure was first reported by TorrentFreak, an online news site focused on copyright issues. The report claims that 84,000 Web subdomains associated with mooo.com -- a shared domain operated by afraid.org -- were rendered inaccessible.
A spokesperson for afraid.org's Free DNS service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Affected sites were down for about three days, during which time visitors would have seen a notice stating that the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security had seized the domain and that advertising, distribution, possession, transportation, and receipt of child pornography is a federal crime.
The government-directed denial of service prevented about 1000 people in their attempts to view child pornography through these non-affiliated sites, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
The agencies involved are reviewing the circumstances of the seizure operation in an effort to prevent similar incidents in the future.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, while careful to acknowledge the legitimacy of removing child porn sites, has condemned the collateral damage to Web sites that were operating lawfully. The cyber rights organization urged legislators mulling expanded copyright enforcement powers not to enact rules likely to result in similar harm when applied with insufficient precision.