In the ongoing saga of the Blogetery.com takedown a lot of credit goes to CNET’s Greg Sandoval who has pursued the story relentlessly when larger media outlets have largely ignored it. Admittedly, he did originate some of the early misinformation and speculation which was covered here on BC, but he has also followed up with new information as it has become available, and ultimately helped raise awareness of the situation enough that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has now taken an interest.
Here’s a quick summary of the facts. Blogetery.com is alleged to have been hosting a site which had on it bomb-making information and a hit list of targets. The site may have been associated with al-Qaeda. The FBI contacted Burst.net which is Blogetery.com’s ISP and asked for more information on the suspect site, as allowed under the USA PATRIOT Act, accompanied with a suggestion that the questionable site be taken down, but not a formal request. Burst.net then overreacted and took the entire Blogetery.com network offline with no warning to its owner or his customers, citing five past terms of service violations — a surprisingly small number of violations from 73,000 user sites.
In the course of this a certain amount of misinformation was circulated, including incorrect statements originating with both a Burst.net employee and the owner of Blogetery.com. Some of this resulted from Burst.net providing no information to Blogetery.com’s owner about why his site had been shut down, leaving him to assume it was related to past TOS violations which involved illegal file sharing.
However, the situation still raises many more questions than it answers and shines a light on the murky area of civil rights in the online environment.
Should the government be able to shut down websites without due process as it has in the past under the DMCA and the PATRIOT Act? Should we be concerned that the FBI has a history of overenforcing and misapplying online security regulations as alleged in the CNET article? Is a suggestion to shut down some sites from the FBI enough reason to excuse Burst.net’s extreme reaction which they have admitted was a violation of their own procedures on resolving problems with customer sites?
What laws were violated here, if any? Posting bomb-making instructions is not actually illegal, though it might be in combination with a hit list if there was content urging readers to take specific violent action. But we don’t know how bad the site was because it has been taken offline. The site was supposedly a Jihadist magazine, but was it promoting violence or was it just reporting on the recent conviction of a US couple whose actions sound very much like those ascribed to this suspect website? What is the actual connection? The lack of disclosure associated with actions like this which don’t go through the courts or any kind of evidentiary procedure opens the door to speculation and abuse.
Finally, where in all of this are the rights of the bloggers and businesses whose sites were shut down through no fault of their own and with no warning and no subsequent access to their intellectual property, a shutdown which was self-admittedly contrary to Burst.net’s own TOS enforcement practices? This is why the EFF is now involved, which may result in some redress for these users, who are the real victims in this story and who seem to be absolutely without any reasonable form of redress.
On the upside, this story is finally starting to break through into the mainstream media, including the online versions of the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times. This additional scrutiny may lead to enough pressure to expose the answers to some of these questions and perhaps even to some review of how the law is enforced online and what how to protect individual rights on the Internet.