“Operation Protect Our Children” Accidentally Shut Down 83,990 Web Sites

February 16th, 2011

From the face-palm file, Gizmodo has this story about an epic fail in which 83,990 web sites were accidentally shut down, and labelled as sites hosting child pornography:

“Operation Protect Our Children” sounded great! The Department of Justice and Homeland Security‘s tag-team beatdown was supposed to seize ten criminal sites this past weekend. Instead, it shuttered 84,000 innocent domains. And replaced them with a banner labeling them as child porn traffickers. Whoops!

The 83,990 sites that weren’t hosting underage porn were stuck with a the gigantic graphic seen here for days after the error was realized. Not exactly a trivial accusation—and an extremely damaging one for the sites, which were mostly personal and small business pages. FreeDNS—the domain service behind the affected sites—was forced to comply with the takedown request by court order, but was clearly (and rightfully) pissed at the misuse of their system: “freedns.afraid.org has never allowed this type of abuse,” they commented. At the moment, nobody has any idea how the tremendous screwup happened.

But by allowing the government to wield an online sledgehammer to protect kids, we need to be sure the person holding it isn’t completely inept, and that the process whereby sites are smashed is a transparent one. When something goes wrong—especially thiswrong—we need to know how it happened. It needs to, at the very least, be acknowledged. Child porn is horrible and damaging. Yes. But so is wrongfully accusing 84,000 people of having a hand in it.

I think we should apply Ted Frank’s rule to “Operation Protect Our Children.”

Update: Welcome Instapundit Readers! My second Installanche this week, 11th of all time.