By now we’ve all heard about last week’s outrageous shutdown of the form-hosting site JotForm.com by the U. S. Secret Service. Even now, there’s been no explanation of why the action was taken nor why, after inconveniencing tens of thousands of customers and jeopardizing the company’s very existence, the action was reversed. From the sketchy information available, it appears that no court order or warrant was obtained. Instead, the Secret Service approached GoDaddy, the registrar of the JotForm.com DNS name, and GoDaddy was eager to do the agency’s bidding. As noted by many, this is consistent with GoDaddy’s long-established history. Typical comment: “Having a domain registered with GoDaddy is just plain stupid.” And in contrast with previous cases of invalid government action against innocent Web sites, no questions have yet been raised by Congress.
Apart from the obvious injustice and abuse of power, there’s an even more important point to be made here, and it was captured nicely a couple of days ago by Joe Stanganelli over at Internet Evolution:
GoDaddy does not wait for due process. It apparently does whatever law enforcement agencies ask it to do. If you’re a law enforcement agency, why bother to get a court order when you’re dealing with fully complicit host providers?
Why bother, indeed? With an eager abettor of extra-legal action by whatever government agency comes along, due process would seem a silly waste of time.
Which brings us to today’s history lesson.
In 1162, King Henry II named his close friend Thomas Becket to the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, but the relationship soon soured. Frustrated and furious but unable for political reasons to take direct action against Becket, Henry cried out, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Four knights — Reginald FitzUrse, William de Tracey, Hugh de Morville, and Richard le Breton — heard and understood the king’s clear meaning. They travelled to Canterbury and killed Becket.
850 years later we see the Secret Service (ICE, FBI, DHS, etc.) in the role of Henry and GoDaddy as FitzUrse et al.
After the grisly deed was done, one of Henry’s knights was reported to have shouted, “Let us away, he will rise no more.” Here, at least, history has not repeated itself.
Becket’s body was still on the cathedral floor when people from Canterbury came in and tore off pieces of his clothes and then dipped these pieces in his blood. They believed that they would bring them luck and keep evil away. Where Becket died quickly became a place of pilgrimage. The pope quickly made him a saint. Henry II asked the pope for forgiveness and he walked barefoot to Canterbury to pray at the spot where Becket was killed. Monks whipped him while he prayed.