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Blogetery Takedown Continues to Raise Concerns

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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.

In his latest report he confirms and expands on the corrected version of events we reported on here earlier in the week.

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.

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About Dave Nalle

  • http://www.1729.com Philip Dorrell

    A hosting service can deal with this kind of problem, where objectionable content may be posted by “customers of customers”, if a hosted application provides a special “takedown admin” user to the hosting service, which can be used (by the hosting service) to take down individual items of objectionable content (or the account of a user that posted the content, if necessary). That way the whole application doesn’t need to be shut down, and the other 69,999 customers can continue to enjoy uninterrupted service.

    I explain this idea in more detail at Design of a TakeDown API .

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Ordinarily it ought to be sufficient to go to the primary customer and advise him of the problem and let him resolve it. This is how Burst.net normally handled that sort of situation, but because the FBI leaned on them in this case they overreacted and this mess is what resulted.

    Dave

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Philip Dorrell (#1), thanks for this informative post. Here at BC the standard take has been, as Dave states it in his article, “Burst.net overreacted and took the entire Blogetery.com network offline with no warning to its owner or his customers.”

    You seem to be telling us that Burst.net did not overreact, but rather resorted to the only technical means at its disposal, namely to disable the whole Application. Thus the global takedown of Blogetery.

    Your technological solution, that the Application Provider (Burst.net) furnish TakeDown Admin capability to the Application Platform Provider (Blogetery), is ingenious. Yet even under such ideal conditions, that still leaves the human process, as you mention on your 1729.com blog, of finding out the cause of the complaint, passing that information on to the Application Platform Provider, and determining between the Application Provider and Application Platform Provider whether the complaint is valid.

    I believe this latter point is what interests us here in the Blogcritics politics section. Technical issues aside, the Burst.net/Blogetery conflict boils down to what is in effect a political dilemma. Who brings the complaint in the first place? If the complainant is the U.S. Government, it’s practically a foregone conclusion that the Application Provider will move quickly–perhaps too quickly–to un-post the allegedly objectionable content. Bringing the Application Platform Provider into the loop at this point would be nothing more than a courtesy. The ensuing content removal would be a fait accompli.

    And therein lies the rub. The FBI’s arbitrary use of Exigent Letters to circumvent due process under law is troubling to many of us. And your suggested TakeDown Admin capability may in fact worsen the problem because it would facilitate the FBI and Application Provider selectively and inconspicuously removing “objectionable content” without creating the ruckus we’ve seen with Burst.net/Blogetery. When 73,000 user sites suddenly disappear, that’s News with a capital N. A single site that goes missing, however, would be unlikely to attract much attention. And this issue demands attention.

  • zingzing

    very good, dave.

    very good, alan.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Now that the Blogetery.com case has hit the major media will some of the questions be answered?

    Doubt that those questions will be answered, Dave. I stated that the fascism (as accurately defined by Gerald Celente) that finally overtook the States in Sept. 2008 is deepening, and developing into a dictatorship, and other stories that deal with Google’s rather over close relationship to the Obama administration is an example of this. I stand by what I say. The use by the FBI of Exigent Letters to get around requirements of due process of law is an example of the developing dictatorship, as are calls to take down Fox News and strictly regulate the content of other media outlets in the United States. Added to this is the attempt by the Obama administration to get the right to shut down the internet (hopefully only in the USA) in case of “an emergency”.

    The refusal of readers elsewhere (like Blogcritics) to acknowledge this, the “automatic software” that seems to target conservatives and Jews on Facebook is another, the Journolist (sp) scandal is yet another, the preferential treatment given to thugs like the Black Panthers, the SEIU and thieves like ACORN is yet another. The list goes on and on.

    DeNial is a very deep river, indeed.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I stand by what I say.

    Regardless of the facts.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    I’ve stated the facts, Jordan. UNTIL I’m convinced that Chris Rose will not erase my comments because he does not like my “whackadoodle opinions” I WILL NOT WASTE ANY EFFORTS on the many links to those facts. I have more important things to do.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    As I said, Jordan, DeNial is a very deep river. You need a life jacket to get out of DeNial. Your comments indicate you do not want one.

  • Jordan Richardson

    You can spread all the cutesy manure you like, Ruvy. The wordplay is entertaining but entirely useless without evidence.

  • Mark

    Great presentation, Alan.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    It seems to me that the stated practices of Burst.net which are similar to those of pretty much every other service provider would have been perfectly adequate if they had followed them. Warning Blogetery.com that there was a problem with the site and then letting them take it offline and deal with the customer ought to have been sufficient, and apparently worked in the prior cases of illegal file sharing. But clearly they found the FBI letter more frightening than complaints under the DMCA and made a very bad decision.

    Dave

  • zingzing

    ruvy, you won’t back up your paranoid claims because you’ve got some paranoid idea that chris rose, specifically, will erase what you have to say? how fucking convenient.

    and that denial pun is very old. it’s also meant to be said out loud… if you write it down, it just looks silly. it’s a groaner.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    and that denial pun is very old. it’s also meant to be said out loud… if you write it down, it just looks silly. it’s a groaner.

    Your comments are groaners also, zing.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    He’s got a point, zing. Time to change your style.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Zing, your style is one of the few bright spots in the Blogcritics comment-section morass. You irritate all the right people. If you change to try to mollify them, we all lose.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    For the record, zing, I never found you irritating. But you do have a tendency, as Ruvy said, to groan at times.

  • zingzing

    roger, ruvy just said “i know you are, but what am i?”

    and you’re just annoyed with me lately, so you agree with him.

    you seriously think i’m going to give a shit about either?

    also, i don’t think you catch what is meant by a “groaner.” note that it’s not a verb.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    If you say so, zing. Didn’t think you were that sensitive.

  • zingzing

    heh. i’m not. (the point of the above, being that i don’t give a shit, was kind of obscured by the use of the word “shit,” i guess… but i curse all the time, so never try to discern my mood through how much i curse, as i do it as often as possible.)

    either way, ruvy’s “denial” thing looks like a dad joke. always nice when he latches onto things like that rather than the substance of my comment, being that his excuse for not sourcing his nonsense is a convenient coverup, but it’s also see-through.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I never judge your comments. zing, by their scatological accompaniment. I barely notice it anymore.

    And really, why should I be annoyed with you? It’s not a kind of quality I infuse into human relationships, unless someone is a real pest.