Could The DOJ Be Violating SESTA/FOSTA?

from the quite-possible dept

Last week, Gizmodo's Dell Cameron has a great report on how the DOJ's Amber Alert site was configured so stupidly that it could be used to redirect people to any website (this was also true of weather.gov and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). And it was being used. To redirect people to hardcore porn. Basically, the sites were designed such that just by knowing the right URL and adding a new URL to the end, it would redirect to those sites. Porn sites used this for a couple of reasons: first, since they'd now be getting referrals from high ranking sites, it can help their Google ranking. Second, because the primary URL would come from a trusted source again, it would help their Google ranking. And, finally, the links may look much more legit to people doing searches (though that would be more true of scam sites than porn sites).

Redirect scripts like this used to be fairly common, but they died off long ago. Except in the federal government. From Cameron's article:

“This is like the 1990s called and wants its vulnerable redirect script back,” said Adriel Desautels, founder of the penetration testing firm Netragard.

But, here's the thing: does this mean that the DOJ (and the NOAA) could be violating SESTA/FOSTA? It's possible! And that just goes to show how poorly drafted the law is. Remember, under the law, it is now illegal to "participate in a venture" that "knowingly" is "assisting, supporting, or facilitating" a violation of sex trafficking laws. So, if someone were to create a DOJ Amber Alert redirect to a sex trafficking website (or just an escort site, since people keep insisting those serve little purpose other than sex trafficking) would the DOJ be in violation?

The obvious response is that the DOJ isn't "knowingly" doing this. But... is that true? As Cameron's article notes, every time you hit one of those Amber Alert redirects, the DOJ gives you a nice little parting message:

Is that enough to "knowingly" participate? Maybe. I would bet that if non-governmental websites popped up similar messages, SESTA/FOSTA supporters would argue it's proof of knowledge. After all, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers claimied that merely "turning a blind eye" was enough to prove "knowledge." And here, clearly, the DOJ must be logging those exit pages. Is it ignoring them? Is that turning a blind eye? Does that count as knowledge?

Maybe it's a stretch, but the fact that the language of the bill even makes this a possibility just demonstrates how poorly drafted the bill is, and shame on all the politicians who refused to step up and fix it.

Filed Under: doj, fosta, intermediary liability, porn, prostitution, redirects, sesta, trafficking, unintended consequences


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2018 @ 12:13pm

    Seriously doubt it

    There's plenty of plausible ways the people at DOJ IT would never know without being informed first. First of all, they may not even be logging redirects. You can scoff all you want, but once you're off their servers they may not log where the redirect went. Logging isn't monolithic. Administrators choose what level of information collection they want. Too much and you end up with a lot of useless chaff. Not enough and you could miss something like this.

    Second, most people don't read raw log files line by line. There's too much information there for trafficked websites like this. Administrators will be looking for certain known patterns when they filter logs which could miss things like this because no one is looking. You can't just assume that because it's potentially in the logs that it's automatically going to be noticed. You have to be looking for it.

    As for the law itself, politicians name laws like this exactly so they can nail opposition next election cycle. You think any politician in our society is going to want to have ads run against them that decry them for "supporting prostitution", "exploitation of women", "not opposing sex and human trafficking", "not protecting our children from sexual predators", and any other resonant issues that's bound to stir up Average Law Abiding Joe? Average Law Abiding Joe doesn't know, and probably doesn't care, that the law was badly written, all he's going to see is that their Congressman didn't stand up against sexual deviancy and loose morals. He won't care till he gets caught in the gears and by then it's too late.

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