Blogetery.com, a free WordPress blog provider, was shut down earlier this month when their entire server was mysteriously yanked without warning or explanation. When the site went dark, over 73,000 user generated blogs disappeared and since then there has been little to no information as who was responsible for pulling the plug or why. Now, after the story has begun to catch media attention and speculation has been running high, Blogetery's hosting provider, BurstNet, has issued an official statement alleging that terrorist activity is associated with the shut down; something many people have speculated on throughout the blogosphere over the past few days.
In the statement, BurstNet claims that they were contacted, via a letter from a still unnamed law enforcement agency that "revealed a link to terrorist material, including bomb-making instructions and an al-Qaeda "hit list"". They further cited that they found that this also violated their terms of service and that there had been a history of "abuse" by Blogetery. Other reports are stating that the letter was from the FBI; however, this was not clearly stated in BurstNet's statement at this time.
There seems to be some contradictions from communiques posted by Blogetery admins in which BurstNet alludes to the fact that the decision to yank the servers themselves were forced upon BurstNet and these same unnamed law enforcement agencies had forbidden them from giving any information as to what had happened or why; however, now they seem to be saying that BurstNet chose to pull the plug after they received the letter requesting information. So again, we seem to be left with even more questions and even fewer answers.
The BurstNet statement was brief and was more a PR push boasting about the "growth" of their company than offering any real information; however they did say that "law enforcement" personnel requested information to identify the posters of the content in question which, if that is the case, seems to be a simple enough of a request- so why the need for the cloak and dagger show? Why not be forth coming with the Admins of Blogetery about the issue or simply state that a terms of service violation occurred in relations to the posts in question? That would have ended the entire issue easily enough, but instead the blogosphere is still abuzz about this incident and its future implications.
Further adding to the speculation and mystery of this entire event is a report from Fox News in which they present an email statement from an FBI spokesman, Paul Bresson, stating that they had made no request for a site to be shut down. Apparently BurstNet has been unavailable for further comments and according to the same report, their answering machines have been unplugged and officials are currently unreachable. At this point it is hard to tell who is trying to save face and who is actually pulling the strings in this case.
While reports from various news sources ,including CNet , are stating that terrorist material and links to an Al Queda recruiting magazine, Inspire, were found on the servers, this issue raises several questions about the rights and safety of internet users and their content and concerns about how law enforcement handles such cases.
One glaring question that is yet to be answered is that if it was in fact believed that these posts contained lists of Americans who were targeted for assassination as it has been alleged, then why would the FBI send, not an agent, not a team of agents, but merely a letter to request information? And why would the request prompt a complete and total shut down of thousands of other blogs? It is laziness on the part of the FBI? Overkill on the part of BurstNet? Or is there still more to this story?
While it appears that the sites were not "officially" shut down by the government but was instead a "voluntary" action prompted by an investigation, could we be seeing the beginnings of what is the equivalent of a Virtual Martial Law? After the recent "kill switch" powers given to the President to essentially shut down the internet at will, moves such as this raise questions that propose a constitutional and economic nightmare. The freedom of information could be an issue if all that is needed to pull a plug on thousands of users is the mere mention of the word "terrorism". This could be a simple issue of law enforcement using scare tactics to "encourage" the host to "voluntarily" shut down the server, or it could be a business hiding behind the legal issue to recover their image; either way, with technology and communication now so intimately intertwined into every aspect of our lives from our financial well being to religious expression, there may be a lot more at stake here than just one blogging site. It is, indeed, a brave new world.
There is still no word yet as to whether the vanishing of the free forum provider IPBFree.com that occurred shortly after Blogetery went dark, is related at all to this incident or not, but we will continue to monitor the story for further updates.