The blocking of websites by national filtering systems make content unavailable to those in such countries, but the deletion of content makes it unavailable to all. The blog of my friend Hossein was recently shutdown due to legal threats, making it unavailable to all while it was previously only censored in Iran.
(Hossein’s update on the situation follows below.)
Threatening ISP’s with “take down” requests is one of the most undocumented methods of censoring Internet content. Some sites, such as ChillingEffects document this to some degree but most cases occur in silence. Since much of it is related to copyright violations or terrorism few are paying close attention. Libel and defamation cases are more notable especially the cases in Malaysia and Singapore.
While it is possible to detect and monitor censorship via internet filtering, as I do for the OpenNet Initiative, it is much more difficult to enumerate content that is simply removed by service providers.
While everyone is on holidays, a new blow to online free speech has taken place and I would like to share it with you and ask for help..
Last Friday, I was kicked out of my hosting company (Florida-based Hosting Matters), as a result of a legal notice sent by Mehdi Khalaji, an Iranian fellow at a neo-conservative think-tank (Washington Institute for the Near East Policy with Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and James Woolsey on its advisory board).
Mhedi Khalaji’s lawyer has sent a notice to my hosting company and also my domain registrar, Go Daddy, asking them to a) remove any ‘defamatory’ material about him, b) make me publish an apology, and c) pay $10,000 for the claimed damages
The lawyers claim are based on a mistranslation of a post I had written a few months ago about Khalaji and his support for a disgusting anti-Iranian campaign (http://www.afpc.org/IFI/iranfreedom.shtml) at another neo-conservative think-tank (American Foreign Policy Council) and his counsel to a think-tank with a clear agenda to overthrow the Iranian government by an economic warfare or a military attack.
The hosting company, clearly intimidated, asked me (documented below) to remove that specific post and also any material related to Mehdi Khalaji, since they didn’t have enough resources to figure if they were actually defamatory or not.
I removed the mentioned post, but resisted against such strange request to remove anything I had written, mentioning Mehdi Khalaji.
Then last Friday, I noticed that the hosting company had actually removed, from my web serve and even my blogging software’s database, any post where Mehdi Khalaji was named in English.
After threatening me not to disclose what the hosting company did, and after a few email exchanges, they terminated my account.
I have now migrated to a new hosting company, outside the United States, still struggling to get my numerous domain names, databases and online applications back and running.
This is a threat to all of us who write anything online these days. If someone could silence whatever he or she didn’t like, even before a court order and based on intimidating hosting and domain registrar companies and based on mistranslated material, we would all going to be in big trouble soon.
It’s all quite ironic that the way I am treated in the United States (by being kicked out of my servers) is worse than that in the Islamic Republic of Iran (by filtering my blog and forcing me to sign apology when I was last in Tehran). Ever more ironic is that a blog I was editing to cover internet censorship in Iran has also been shut down.
Please feel free to blog this and spread the word any way you can. I’ll keep you post about the new developments by email, and as well on my temporary blog on blogspot (http://hodertempblog.blogspot.com).
Here are the supporting documents:
1) The initial legal notice from Khalaji’s lawyer:
2) Email exchange with the hosting company led to termination of my accounts:
3) My trouble with Islamic Republic of Iran’s authorities: