When the government ignores the law, you have a lawless Internet

For Congress and commentators, it’s popular to call the Internet “lawless” and to compare it to the “Wild West“. Even French President Nicolas Sarkozy is flogging the meme.

But as Glyn Moody explains so well, just the reverse is true:

The Internet is already subject to a whole host of laws in every country. Indeed, often it is subject to multiple jurisdictions because of its global reach and complicated legal position.

Now, there is lawlessness out there on the Internet, and the one undeniable source is the U.S. Federal Government. From the incompetent take-down of 84,000 innocent Web sites a year ago to the still-unexplained year-long hostage-taking of dajaz1.com, U.S. agencies ignore the law, due process, and common sense with impunity. The most recent example is this week’s shut-down of the form-hosting site JotForm.com. With no notice and for reasons still unstated, the U.S. Secret Service “suspended” the domain name, interrupting business activity and disenfranchising tens of thousands of users. Attempts by JotForm.com’s founder to understand and resolve the problem were met with the frustration only government can provide:

JotForm.com has been suspended by Godaddy for more than 24 hours now. They have disabled the DNS without any prior notice or request. They have told us the domain name was suspended as part of an ongoing law enforcement investigation. In order to resolve the issue, they asked us to contact the officer in charge at U. S. Secret Service.

When I contacted the Secret Service, the agent told me she is busy and she asked for my phone number, and told me they will get back to me within this week. I told them we are a web service with hundreds of thousands of users, so this is a matter of urgency, and we are ready to cooperate fully. I was ready to shutdown any form they request and provide any information we have about the user. Unfortunately, she told me she needs to look at the case which she can do in a few days. I called her many times again to check about the case, but she seems to be getting irritated with me. At this point, we are waiting for them to look into our case.

Don’t overlook the reference above to GoDaddy, the fully complicit overeager abettor of any and all government requests for action against their customers. As one of the commenters to the CNet report said,

Having a domain registered with GoDaddy is just plain stupid. Everyone who’s been paying attention knows that GoDaddy are scumbags: they’ve proved it over and over and over again. Why wait for them to prove it again?

Now, the good news is that the suspension of JotForm.com has been lifted. The bad news is that the Secret Service still hasn’t explained or justified the original action. But, then, this is the government.

For ongoing updates, stay tuned to the JotForm Blog.

/Steve/

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