CyberLaw Blog

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Archive for February 16th, 2011

U.S. Government Shuts Down 84,000 Websites, ‘By Mistake’

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

U.S. Government Shuts Down 84,000 Websites, ‘By Mistake’: “

As part of ‘Operation Save Our Children’ ICE’s Cyber Crimes Center has again seized several domain names, but not without making a huge error. Last Friday, thousands of site owners were surprised by a rather worrying banner that was placed on their domain.

‘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,’ was the worrying message they read on their websites.

As with previous seizures, ICE convinced a District Court judge to sign a seizure warrant, and then contacted the domain registries to point the domains in question to a server that hosts the warning message. However, somewhere in this process a mistake was made and as a result the domain of a large DNS service provider was seized.

The domain in question is, which belongs to the DNS provider FreeDNS. It is the most popular shared domain at and as a result of the authorities’ actions a massive 84,000 subdomains were wrongfully seized as well. All sites were redirected to the banner below.

This banner was visible on the 84,000 sites

CP banner

The FreeDNS owner was taken by surprise and quickly released the following statement on their website. ‘ has never allowed this type of abuse of its DNS service. We are working to get the issue sorted as quickly as possible.’

Eventually, on Sunday the domain seizure was reverted and the subdomains slowly started to point to the old sites again instead of the accusatory banner. However, since the DNS entries have to propagate, it took another 3 days before the images disappeared completely.

Most of the subdomains in question are personal sites and sites of small businesses. A search on Bing still shows how many innocent sites were claimed to promote child pornography. A rather damaging accusation, which scared and upset many of the site’s owners.

One of the customers quickly went out to assure visitors that his site was not involved in any of the alleged crimes.

‘You can rest assured that I have not and would never be found to be trafficking in such distasteful and horrific content. A little sleuthing shows that the whole of the TLD is impacted. At first, the legitimacy of the alerts seems to be questionable–after all, what reputable agency would display their warning in a fancily formatted image referenced by the underlying HTML? I wouldn’t expect to see that.’

Even at the time of writing people can still replicate the effect by adding ‘’ to their hosts file as the authorities have not dropped the domain pointer yet.

Although it is not clear where this massive error was made, and who’s responsible for it, the Department of Homeland security is conveniently sweeping it under the rug. In a press release that went out a few hours ago the authorities were clearly proud of themselves for taking down 10 domain names.

However, DHS conveniently failed to mention that 84,000 websites were wrongfully taken down in the process, shaming thousands of people in the process.

‘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,’ Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano commented.

‘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,’ she added.

A noble initiative, but one that went wrong, badly. The above failure again shows that the seizure process is a flawed one, as has been shown several times before in earlier copyright infringement sweeps. If the Government would only allow for due process to take place, this and other mistakes wouldn’t have been made.


Delete child pornography web pages across the EU, says Civil Liberties Committee

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Delete child pornography web pages across the EU, says Civil Liberties Committee

Justice and home affairs – 14-02-2011 – 22:22

Committee : Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

Child pornography or child abuse material on the web must be removed at source in all EU countries, said the Civil Liberties Committee on Monday, in amendments to proposed new EU rules to prevent abuse, stiffen penalties, and protect victims. Where removal is impossible, e.g. because pages are hosted outside the EU, Member States may still ‘prevent access’ to this material, in line with their national laws, MEPs added, so no Member State will be prevented from blocking sites.
Civil Liberties Committee MEPs made a series of amendments Monday to a proposed EU directive to combat sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Studies suggest that between 10% and 20% of minors in Europe may be sexually assaulted during childhood.

Complete removal at source must be the main aim

The original Commission proposal would have made blocking of child porn web sites mandatory for Member States. MEPs instead advocate removal at source and, should that prove impossible, allow Member States to ‘prevent access’ to this material.

EU Member States must impose binding requirements to ensure the ‘removal at source of internet pages containing or disseminating child pornography or child abuse material’, MEPs say.

The EU must also co-operate with third countries to secure the prompt removal of such material from servers hosted in those countries, they add.

Preventing access

Should removal at source prove impossible (e.g. because the state where servers are hosted is unwilling to co-operate or because its procedure for removing the material from servers is particularly long), Member States ‘may take the necessary measures in accordance with national legislation to prevent access to such content in their territory’, say MEPs. The adopted amendment therefore in no way prevents any Member State from blocking sites, in line with its national law.

National measures preventing access ‘must be set by transparent procedures and provide adequate safeguards, in particular to ensure that the restriction is limited to what is necessary and proportionate, and that users are informed of the reason for the restriction’, MEPs say. Content providers and users must also be informed of the possibility to appeal, and to whom to appeal, under a judicial redress procedure, they add.

Tougher penalties and ban on working with children

The new rules would introduce tougher penalties across the EU for those who sexually abuse or exploit children. The proposal sets minimum penalties for 22 criminal offences, but also allows Member States to impose harsher measures and sentencing.

Offenders would face penalties ranging from one to over ten years in prison, depending on the crime. Since some 20% of sex offenders go on to commit further offences after conviction, MEPs stipulate that convicted offenders ‘may be temporarily or permanently prevented from exercising professional activities involving direct and regular contact with children and volunteer activities related to the supervision and/or care of children’.

When recruiting, employers will be entitled to obtain information on any convictions for sex crimes. After recruitment, if serious suspicion arises, employers may still request such information, even if it has to be obtained from criminal records held in other EU countries. Member States may also take other measures, such as putting in place ’sex offenders registers’ accessible to the judiciary and/or law enforcement agencies, add MEPs.

Abuse by persons in a position of trust, authority or influence over the child (for instance, family members, guardians or teachers) is included in, and punishable under, the new criminal offences. Higher sentences would also be imposed on anyone committing an offence involving children with a physical or mental disability, in a situation of dependence or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

‘Sex tourists’ travelling abroad to abuse children will also face prosecution, under the new rules on jurisdiction.

EU-wide criminalization of ‘grooming’

New forms of abuse and exploitation, such as ‘grooming’ (befriending children through the web with the intention of sexually abusing them), or making children pose sexually in front of web cameras, will also be criminalised. MEPs have added a rule that offenders who use different means to target a great number of children so as to multiply their chances of committing the crime would face harsher penalties.

Protecting victims

MEPs have strengthened proposed rules on assisting, supporting and protecting victims, to ensure that they have easy access to legal remedies and do not suffer from participating in criminal investigations and trials.

Next steps

Negotiations between Parliament and Council representatives will continue in the coming months, with a view to reaching a compromise preferably in the first half of 2011. Once adopted, this directive will replace current EU legislation dating from 2004. Member States would then have two years to transpose the new rules into their national laws.

Committee vote on report of Roberta Angelilli (EPP, IT): 40 in favour, none against, 5 abstentions

In the chair: Juan Fernando LÓPEZ AGUILAR (S&D, ES)

REF.: 20110131IPR12841

Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices & Challenges in a Networked World

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices & Challenges in a Networked World: ”
Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices & Challenges in a Networked World

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
George Washington University
Washington, DC
February 15, 2011

Thank you all very much and good afternoon. It is a pleasure, once again, to be back on the campus of the George Washington University, a place that I have spent quite a bit of time in all different settings over the last now nearly 20 years. I’d like especially to thank President Knapp and Provost Lerman, because this is a great opportunity for me to address such a significant issue, and one which deserves the attention of citizens, governments, and I know is drawing that attention. And perhaps today in my remarks, we can begin a much more vigorous debate that will respond to the needs that we have been watching in real time on our television sets.

A few minutes after midnight on January 28th, the internet went dark across Egypt. During the previous four days, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had marched to demand a new government. And the world, on TVs, laptops, cell phones, and smart phones, had followed every single step. Pictures and videos from Egypt flooded the web. On Facebook and Twitter, journalists posted on-the-spot reports. Protestors coordinated their next moves. And citizens of all stripes shared their hopes and fears about this pivotal moment in the history of their country. (more…)

US State Department FactSheet: Internet Freedom

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Internet Freedom

Fact Sheet
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 15, 2011

Following her landmark address on January 21, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a second major foreign policy speech on Internet freedom on February 15, 2011 at George Washington University.

Last year, Secretary Clinton called on the global community to protect freedom of expression, association, and assembly in the online world. Taken together, these rights comprise what Secretary Clinton has called the ‘freedom to connect.’ By protecting these rights in the digital era, we preserve the promise and the possibility of the Internet as a platform for ideas, innovation, connection, and economic growth.

The United States is making good on its promise to defend the openness of the Internet and other connection technologies:

* The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor issued over $5 million in grants in 2010 to support access to information and secure communications on the Internet and mobile devices.
* In March 2010, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero and Under Secretary for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats convened the first meeting of information technology companies to discuss ways in which the private sector and government can work together to advance Internet freedom.
* Our diplomats raise the cases of imprisoned bloggers, journalists, and online activists at the highest levels of government, and we take a public stand on their behalf. In the last year, we publicly raised the cases of online activists and journalists in countries ranging from Egypt and Tunisia to Azerbaijan, Syria, and China.
* The United States is playing a leading role in a global coalition of governments committed to advancing Internet freedom. This commitment was highlighted at the Internet Governance Forum in Vilnius, Lithuania in September 2010 and in a cross-regional statement on Internet freedom sponsored by Sweden in the Human Rights Council in June 2010.

Through the State Department and USAID, the United States is committed to continuing to advance Internet freedom over the course of the next year:

* As announced in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the Secretary is establishing the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues and has named Mr. Christopher Painter as its head. On cyber-security and other issues, the new office will coordinate work across the Department and with other agencies.
* The Department will issue up to $30 million in grants funding to increase open access to the Internet, support digital activists, and push back against Internet repression wherever it occurs.
* The United States is proud to serve as host of UNESCO World Press Freedom Day on May 1 – 3, ‘21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers,’ which will include Internet freedom themes.
* USAID will execute a program to bring much needed digital safety capacity-building to local media and civil society organizations around the world.
* The State Department will continue to advance Internet freedom as an economic issue in multilateral forums and will continue to advocate for openness on the Internet in our bilateral relationships.

The Secretary’s 21st Century Statecraft initiatives complement the Department’s work to advance Internet freedom. 21st Century Statecraft connects the private and civic sectors with foreign policy by bringing new resources and partners together, and using connection technologies to make diplomacy more innovative. Internet freedom is a prerequisite for the application of technology in these ways—an open platform creates the space for innovation in diplomacy, development, and beyond.

* Through new connection technologies, we are connecting directly with people we could not reach before. For example, USAbilAraby, which we tweet in Arabic, had a retweet reach of 570,000 people just days after its launch and USAdarFarsi language tweets had a reach of 288,000 within hours. And it’s not simply broadcasting our messages in the stodgy old way of governments, we get to see responses from people everywhere – positive and negative – and then we are able to engage each other as equals. After all, no tweet can be more than 140 characters, whether you are the U.S. Secretary of State, a protester in Tahrir Square, or someone who wants to be heard in the streets on Tehran.
* In September 2010, the Secretary launched the mWomen initiative – a public-private partnership led by the Global Women’s Initiative designed to close the global gender gap in mobile phone adoption.
* Last year, the State Department launched Civil Society 2.0 to build the technical capacity of civil society organizations to accomplish their missions through the use of connection technologies. Civil Society 2.0 seeks to match these organizations with technology tools and tech-savvy volunteers to help raise digital literacy, strengthen the information and communications networks of NGOs, and amplify the impact of civil society movements.
* As part of the Civil Society 2.0 program, the United States, through the State Department, has held several Tech@State meetings and a TechCamp in Santiago, Chile, on topics ranging from the use of technology in the aftermath of natural disasters to mobile money to blogger training. The Department also partnered to launch the first Apps4Africa competition with local partners in the region challenging applicants to use digital technology to connect to their communities and develop innovative solutions to shared problems.

For more information and updates, please visit

US Government challenged on Twitter records access

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

US Government challenged on Twitter records access –

From Larry Lazo, CNN
February 16, 2011 — Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)

* ACLU, Electric Frontier Foundation have filed motions in federal court
* One motion seeks to unseal court records on attempts to collect info on Twitter users
* A second motion seeks to overturn order requiring Twitter to provide user info to feds
* Civil rights groups represent three people who are focus of government investigation

Washington (CNN) — Two civil liberties groups have squared off against the government as investigators probing the WikiLeaks scandal seek to gain access to Twitter records.

Lawyers for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appeared in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, Tuesday representing three people government investigators are targeting.

Two motions have been filed in the case. The first aims to unseal court records on attempts by the government to collect private records from people holding accounts with Twitter, and the second seeks to overturn a previous court order that requires Twitter to provide information about its users to the government. Defense lawyers say the government’s demand for the records violates First Amendment speech rights and Fourth Amendment privacy rights.

Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Iceland’s parliament, is the most high-profile of the three defendants. The other two people represented in court were WikiLeaks associates Jacob Applebaum and Rop Gonggijp. The three defendants are believed to have helped prepare a classified U.S. Army video that was published on the WikiLeaks website last year.

Defense attorneys argued that the government has not sufficiently demonstrated the need for secrecy when it comes to keeping court documents sealed. They also question the justification for the government wanting IP addresses pertaining to their clients’ use on Twitter.

The government said looking at IP addresses is no different than subpoenas of phone records. The ‘defendants are tying together privacy in the home with public movements,’ said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Davis. ‘IP addresses do not show location with precision,’ he added.

The government says its investigation is not about politics or defendants’ associations with certain invidividuals. The government did not disclose why it is seeking information on the people in question in addition to the others in the still-sealed court documents. But they did say a person’s use of Twitter is fair game and their wanting to know about it is justified.

‘Tweets are public statements,’ Davis said.

U.S. Magistrate Theresa C. Buchanan appeared to be persuaded by the government’s argument on privacy concerns, telling defense attorneys, ‘There is no expectation of privacy when using Twitter.’ Having said that, Buchanan said she would take both arguments under consideration.

The WikiLeaks website is behind the largest-ever intelligence leak in American history. Hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents have been posted on the site. Everything from details about classified military operations to commentary about various foreign heads of state has been posted on

Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army private suspected of being involved in the scandal, is being held in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. He is facing eight counts of violating U.S. Criminal Code for allegedly leaking a secret military video from the Iraq war that was posted on the WikiLeaks website.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is in London and is fighting extradition to Sweden to face sex charges brought against him by two women.