Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Website Takedowns: Should You Be Worried?

Last week the Secret Service shut down Jotform, an online contact form service with no explanation, then returned it. Find out more about it on +Kim Beasley's page, where she's linked to other articles about it. What's frightening about it is, they have procedures in place to deal with attempted fraud in compliance with the law. They're not a a rogue site. What's going on? And what can we do about it?

In the past year HomeLand Security has shut down hundreds of websites on suspicion of copyright infringement, often with no due process. What terrifies me is that some of them were sites that merely linked to websites that may have hosted copyright infringing material. With due process and free speech being trampled underfoot despite the failure of the PIPA/SOPA bills, it's time to ask if the law enforcement agencies have gone too far.

Overreaching, overbearing, and over your shoulder

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California), had tough words for the DHS during a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing in Washington on Thursday. In particular, Rep. Speier said she was “outraged” that the agency had spent millions of dollars on a private contractor to monitor social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and additionally keep an eye on news sites including Wired, WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report. -RT.com

Incidents like that make you wonder if they've got nothing better to do; they're straying from their stated mision to protect the country from terrorists, etc. Our own Serious Organized Crime Agency doesn't seem to want to fall behind in the cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer stakes, having seized a music website the other day. The thing that concerns me most is that if they ever do admit to getting it wrong, they merely shrug their shoulders and act like nothing happened.

The other side of the coin

Pro-copyrightsholders groups have been whinging online (and on the radio, in one incident) about the theft of their property and their fear of being put out of business. Actually, they're the ones putting people out of business. Ars Technica has raised the issue of technology being held back to protect the rightsholders, who, it seems, are pushing for even more power than a puppet police force and all the jackboots MPAA and RIAA money can buy have given them already. They've already admitted that their business model doesn't work but are frantically trying to shore it up with a terrifying array of legislation and treaties that they're trying to sneak in under the radar. The worst thing about it is the rightsolders lobby think they've failed not because they're flat out wrong to try to rob us of our freedom and usher in an age of 1984-style surveillance, but that they simply haven't tried hard enough.

With all of this going on, it's hardly surprising that an hour-long outage on the blog Techdirt, whose posts I regularly link to, made me flip out all over the social media asking what the Hell was going on, wondering if this was an attempt to silence a vocal critic. Nope, just a DNS problem which has since been resolved, but honestly, it wouldn't have surprised me to find a takedown notice on their website instead of tech news reports.

What you can do

To fight agreements like ACTA requires organizations with the sophistication and resources to navigate the complex world of international diplomacy. - Michael Geist in an article on Ars Technica.

Geist says that donating to Knowledge Ecology International, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation is the most effective way for ordinary voters to help resist the worldwide trend toward ever-more-extreme copyright laws. Join The Internet Freedom Movement and sign the petitions they link to. Keep yourself informed; we're in this for the long haul and it's a fight we can't afford to lose.

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