FBI takes down British site in a bizarre case of mistaken identity

A Brighton-based firm was shocked to learn its domain was seized by the US authorities last week

The FBI seized and removed the website of a British advertising company last week after falsely believing the platform was caught up in its investigation into illegal prostitution activities in the US.

Designate, a Brighton-based ad agency, learned it had stopped receiving external emails on Wednesday 19 February, with its IT team learning shortly afterwards that the FBI had taken down its domain name entirely.

After contacting the US authorities, it emerged that the removal was a case of mistaken identity, with its website taken down among a wave of hundreds of others that were being investigated for prostitution activities.

Having first pleaded with a special agent in the Department for Homeland Security (DHS), Designate then liaised with a US Attorney and a District Court in New York. The company signed a document acknowledging they had no part in the investigation, and that it would waive its right to claim against the US government.

“You really couldn’t make it up,” said Designate partner Jason Triandafyllou

“We now have our domain name back, emails are coming through again, and once the updates have washed their way through the system, everyone will be able to visit our website again.

“Aside from the reputational damage and loss of potential business this has potentially resulted in, I guess we can count ourselves lucky that we are not an ecommerce business. Because we might now be entirely out of business.”

Designate was expressly shocked to learn the FBI and US authorities had full jurisdiction to seize its .com domain name, regardless of the fact the company is based outside of the US. 

Triandafyllou added that the incident highlighted the prospective “evils of state control” from non-hostile countries such as “our best buddies” in the US, as opposed to the fear that surrounds states such as China and Russia. 

He also used the mishap to stress the post-Brexit irony that his company would have to revert to a .co.uk domain in order to escape the remit of the US.

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