I wrote here about the dangers of Registry operators, particularly Nominet, allowing suspension of domain names outside the due process of courts, to make matters ‘easier’ for law enforcement. One of the many reasons why this is a bad idea is that innocent bystanders can get caught in the crossfire. Now, exactly that has happened in the US as described here.

The Register alleges that the domain name ‘mooo.com’ was suspended as it was ‘seized’ by  ’Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the main investigative arm of the US Department of Homeland Security‘ who then replaced the web sites hosted at ‘mooo.com’ with a banner including the text ‘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.’

It appears, however, that mooo.com (which today reports ‘no web site configured’) was actually some sort of shared free web hosting service. I’m obviously not in a position to say whether one or more users had hosted unlawful material there, but even if this is the case, it seems likely that a large number of innocent users were affected too. There does not seem to be any suggestion the operators of mooo.com were involved. The solution to this problem is not for the domain name in question to be suspended (particularly on no notice), with consequent collateral damage, but rather to go after the publishers of the unlawful material. I am not in any way suggesting child pornography is not a serious crime. Rather, I am suggesting it is the perpetrators who should be targeted, impact on innocent parties should be minimised, and that the authorities pursuing them should be subject to the rule of law. Particularly worrying in this case, if the Register is correct about the notice appearing on web sites of innocent people, is the likely inference drawn by others that these people were somehow involved in child pornography.

I am sure it is not unheard of for people to upload unlawful material to Facebook, Myspace, or other services reliant on a single domain name; I do not believe these services should get special protection just because the law enforcement community is likely to be more familiar with them.

I should point out that in this case what The Register describes as a ‘secret court proceedings’ (in reality perhaps just an ex parte hearing) was involved. What Nominet and/or SOCA propose (it’s difficult to tell who is doing the proposing) is that even that safeguard would be dropped.