The Spam Diaries

News and musings about the fight against spam.
 by Edward Falk

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Don't register or host your domain in the U.S. if it's controversial

In the news lately have been a number of incidents where U.S. courts, or the U.S. government itself has ordered domain registrars to shut down free speech.

First was the E360 vs Spamhaus case, in which accused spammer E360 Insight sued anti-spam organization Spamhaus for labeling them as spammers and won by default when Spamhaus insisted that U.S. courts did not have jurisdiction over them in England and didn't appear. Unfortunately, U.S. courts did have jurisdiction over Spamhaus' domain registrar, who was nearly ordered to shut Spamhaus down (a court order was under consideration). Fortunately, Spamhaus was able to move their registration overseas before any shutdown order could be issued.

Not so lucky was WikiLeaks, a whistle-blowing web site which blew the whistle against Swiss Bank Julius Baer, publishing documents that supposedly provided evidence of asset hiding, money laundering and tax evasion. Julius Baer sued in retaliation and was able to convince U.S. judge Judge Jeffrey White to order Wikileaks' domain registrar to shut them down a few weeks ago. Although Wikileaks was foolish enough to have a registrar in U.S. jurisdiction, they were at least wise enough to have their servers in Sweden and to have mirrors in other countries, and so the organization was able to stay on the air. Shortly after, the judge reversed his decision.

Probably better known is the Pakistani censorship of YouTube. Late last month, the Pakistani government decided that some of the material hosted on YouTube was too offensive to be allowed inside the country, and ordered Pakistan Telecom to block YouTube at the border. Unfortunately, the method used by Pakistan Telecom was to advertise false domain routing for IP addresses owned by YouTube. This would have worked fine if not for the fact that the false routing information leaked out of Pakistan and shut down routing world-wide, knocking YouTube off the air for a couple hours.

But far worse than any of these is the outright censorship of a Spanish travel agency by the United States Government.

The travel agency in question — run by an Englishman named Steve Marshall who lives in Spain — specializes in trips to Cuba. Even though though the web site is not run by a U.S. citizen, is not based in the U.S., and is targeted at European travelers and not Americans, Marshall made one fatal mistake: he registered his domains in the United States.

That was enough for the U.S. government. In October, the U.S. Treasury Department ordered Marshall's domain registrar, eNom, to not only pull the plug on Marshall's domains, but to lock them down to prevent him from transferring them to a registrar outside of the United States.

The full story can be found in the New York Times article A Wave of the Watch List, and Speech Disappears. The article is well worth reading, and details abuses of the watch list the government uses to punish people who do business with Cuba.

Update: Add Network Solutions to the list of registrars not to do business with if you have a controversial web site. In April 2008, they shut down a web site which promoted a controversial anti-islam film. It didn't even take a court order to do it. See E Commerce Times article Domain Name Registrars: The Weakest Link in Online Free Speech

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