Mystery shrouds closures of blog, forum platforms

A blogging platform and a company that hosts message boards were shut down within days of each other and nobody is saying why. Are they linked?

Note: For more recent news on this issue, read "Bomb-making tips, hit list behind Blogetery closure"

Two services that enable users to blog or create online forums have disappeared from the Internet under mysterious circumstances.

Blogetery.com, a blogging platform, went dark on July 9, less than a week before Ipbfree.com, a service that helped users create Web message boards, went offline. No one has said these situations are linked, but they nonetheless possess intriguing similarities.

• Each of the services host loads of user-generated content.
• Operators at both Blogetery and Ipbfree said they were shut down and aren't coming back.
• Both said they obeyed copyright law.
• In each case, those with knowledge of who ordered the closures or the reasons why said they are legally required not to disclose that information.

"We are limited as to the details we can provide to you," Burst.net wrote to Blogetery's administrator. "Note that this was a critical matter and the only available option to us was to immediately deactivate the server."

This is the kind of Internet whodunit that tweaks the paranoia of many a Web user and file sharer. They are accustomed to seeing some of their favorite services shut down after running afoul of copyright laws, but a closure of a site for infringing content usually occurs after extended court battles and in the light of day. They aren't typically cloaked in secrecy. It's also rare to lose two such services in the same week.

While both situations are still too murky to rule anything out, copyright violations don't appear to be the cause of Blogetery's troubles.

'History of abuse'
In Burst.net's e-mails to Blogetery, the operator was told his service had a "history of abuse." Benjamin Arcus, vice president of Scranton, Pa.,-based Burst.net, the Web host for Blogetery, told CNET that executives there terminated service at the direction of a law enforcement agency.

"I can not disclose which agency or why they [ordered the action]. I can say that this is not a copyright issue"
--Burst.net executive

"I can not disclose which agency or why they [ordered the action]," Arcus said. "I can say that this is not a copyright issue." He said he believed Burst.net did not provide Internet service for Ipbfree.com.

In addition to Arcus' statements, spokespeople for the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America also told CNET they didn't know anything about Blogetery. Besides, it is nearly unheard of that a copyright complaint from either of those two trade groups would mean almost instantaneous shut down of a site.

They would first have to confront the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, designed to protect Internet service providers from liability for infringing material that users post to their sites.

Gone forever
As for Ipbfree.com, little has been made public about what occurred there. In some Twitter posts from people who apparently operated the service, they indicated that they complied with the DMCA. Site managers answered questions asked by former users via Twitter.

"iPBFree is gone forever and it's not possible to retrieve anything," said one of the service's administrators who went by the Twitter handle Connormccarthy. "It wasn't planned. We're exceptionally sorry."

Another person identifying himself as an administrator and using the handle Catfriedrice told a former user: "Can't tell you anything about it. Sorry, I'm bound to this secret by law."

One question still unanswered is where Ipbfree.com was based. Former managers appear to be British, but records show that Ipbfree was launched in the United States. Administrators were not immediately available for comment on Sunday.

What really has some observers scratching their heads is that it's unclear under what circumstance a law enforcement group could walk in and order an Internet host to boot a customer off the Web without any apparent warning or court order?

Was there due process?
None of this makes sense, according to one law enforcement official with experience in cybercrime investigations who wasn't connected to the cases but wished to be anonymous because he is isn't authorized to speak on the matter.

He said that he didn't know of any agency that had the authority to terminate service for thousands of people without essentially jumping through all kinds of legal hoops. Not even federal officials in child pornography investigations can immediately shut down hosting services.

Search warrants are obtained and Internet protocol addresses of the people uploading and downloading the material are turned over, but the services typically stay in operation, the source said. He said he thinks there's likely more to the story.

He noted that in the United States, prosecutors and law enforcement are required to provide due process. He said, at least in theory, we have a system based on the assumption that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

They can't just snap their fingers, he said, and make a service provider go dark.

Note: We will be following this situation closely and will post more info as soon as we get it. If you have any knowledge about what's occurred, please e-mail me at greg.sandoval@cbs.com.

 

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