Will no one rid me of this troublesome Web site?

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.

And there’s more to the story:

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.

Stay tuned.


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.