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Testing the “Internet kill switch”

If you read tech blogs — and only if you read tech blogs (or a handful of online techzines) — you already know that, on July 9, some unnamed government agency, for unnamed reasons, ordered BurstNET to take 73,000 blogs permanently offline. All were part of the same WordPress platform called Blogetery.

A week later, a forum-creating service was shut down just as mysteriously.

If you rely on mainstream sources for your news — or even online mainstream alternatives — you haven’t heard a peep about any of this.

Why did some unnamed government agency order the death of 73,000 blogs?

Nobody has a clue. First guesses were that a few of the blogs that shared the same server were suspected of violating copyrights — although BurstNET denies this.

What unnamed agency issued the order?

Nobody has a clue.

On what authority did they do it?

Nobody has a clue.

Did anybody perform even a vestige of due process?

Nobody has a clue — although if any “due process” was used at all, it sure wasn’t the sort that the Constitution and Bill of Rights require; that would involve public disclosure, court battles, and presumably a guilty verdict before any legal shutdown could be ordered. More likely the mass slam-down was justified under one of the new star-chamber undue processes the federal government has recently granted itself. But who knows? (We don’t even know for sure that a federal agency is responsible — though the action and the secrecy reek of “fed.”)

Why is BurstNET not telling the world why it shut down the server with all those blogs on it?

Apparently — and presumably also under some “security” law — the same unnamed government agency ordered them not to talk.

Were all 73,000 blogs guilty of something? Anything? Let alone of offenses that can only be dealt with via summary mass-execution, carried out in totalitarian secrecy?


Why is all but the xtreme tech-media silent?

Hm. Maybe they don’t want to risk their proposed government bailouts. Or maybe they’ve just outlived their usefulness; no great surprise there. But there was a time not long ago when even the stodgiest mainstreamers would have hopped right on such an obvious First Amendment violation.

Above all … Is this any America that anybody recognizes?


I just wrote an article for S.W.A.T. magazine on Joe Lieberman’s proposal to give the federal government a “Internet kill switch.” (The article will be published in the print edition in a few months.) Some of you guys helped me a lot on that, thank you.

If you recall, Lieberman seemed mystified by our objections and said that the U.S. would merely be emulating China’s policies on free speech and press freedom and what could possibly be wrong with that? He seemed to be under the impression (or wanted us to be under the impression) that in China and the U.S. both, this would be strictly a war-time power.

Anyhow, in the article, I focused on what you good folks — smarter than Mr. “Authoritah” Lieberman gives you credit for — already know: that China’s power over the ‘Net has nothing to do with war and everything to do with daily political control — and so would any ‘Net power given to the U.S. fedgov.

I didn’t know it at the time, but one of my S.W.A.T. editors, Kathy Allard, lives in Hong Kong. (Don’t you love the Internet?)

She sent kind words about the article. But she also sent an email detailing a bit more about China’s use of its powers.

With her permission, I give you Kathy’s words. Will this be coming soon to a technosphere near you? Until lately, I’d have said Americans wouldn’t be supine enough to accept such heavy-handedness. But now? Well, think about those 73,000 assassinated blogs and the silence of the media and judge for yourself:

[L]iving here in Hong Kong on China’s doorstep, I see examples of gov’t control of information every day.

— No Facebook in China.

— In China most people don’t use Twitter, they use a Chinese-language imitation called Wei-Bo. One Hong Kong writer who uses it said that on June 4, she posted as her Wei-Bo, “Good morning. It is the 4th of June.” One HOUR later her post had been removed!

— In Xinjiang last year [where there were anti-government riots], not only did the gov’t shut down the internet, but they shut down all cell phone service immediately, and kept it off. The vast majority of people have cell phones only, so that did away with anyone calling others to say, “Meet at x place at 8pm.”

— Whenever there is some problem in China, there is a news blackout (but the ‘net is getting around that, which is one reason word of trouble in Xinjiang got out, and hence gov’t stepping up efforts to control the ‘net). If something happens just over the border from Hong Kong (and which may very likely affect family members of people in HK), our news will report the rumor but then state there is a news blackout. E.g., the Chinese gov’t seizes land from farmers and other poor people in order to build luxury condos or whatever on it for the growing upper class, and sometimes the farmers riot.

— Last week was the anniversary of the Xinjiang riots, and without mentioning why they were doing it, CCTV ran a week-long series on its English-language news called “Xinjiang Stable Society.” Most of it was interviews with people in Xinjiang talking about their neighbors like this: “She is a Uighur. She is nice. Everybody likes her.” The odd thing is that, I can easily believe this flying with Chinese people (apologies for the racial profiling, but I’ve traveled a lot in China and have formed definite opinions), but this news program is aimed at English speakers living in China. How naive do they think we are?

— But on the other hand, on the same CCTV English-language news broadcast, I’ve heard U.S. news that I’d NEVER heard on any mainstream U.S. news, particularly regarding the wars.

China still isn’t the most oppressive country that I’ve been to — in Burma/Myanmar there isn’t even any email, there’s almost nothing that can be accessed online at all.


  1. Winston
    Winston July 19, 2010 10:08 am

    Whoah….guess I better start reading those tech blogs…

  2. Pat
    Pat July 19, 2010 10:39 am

    I was just reading this a.m. about the BurstNet kill switch at; Brad had recently heard about it.

    These actions by government are becoming scary — more and more, *at all levels*, authorities are deciding to do what they please, for whatever reasons they please. I feel the noose tightening as I compare U.S. regulations and actions taken with those of the Nazis. I keep thinking, “If they called in all the laws on the books….” Keep your powder dry.

    And I was struck by the farmers in China who apparently still do rebel at eminent domain (with or without compensation). WHY DON’T WE?

    (BTW, the name “Kathy Allard” is awfully familiar to me. Does it mean anything to anyone else?)

  3. G.W.F.
    G.W.F. July 19, 2010 11:54 am

    I’m not a fan of the Washington Post, but the article Top Secret America has been getting lots of coverage this week. Some 1300 separate facilities run by over 2000 companies employing 850,000 people who all get Top Secrete Security Clearance to do God-Knows-What.

    I guess these types of censorship should not come as a surprise.

    I know that in recent weeks I have also seen a major shift in file-sharing and movie/tv download and hosting sites. I rarely ever watch anything on network/cable or even rent movies. If I am interested in seeing a show or movie I just find it and either download or watch it steaming on-line. Many of the sites I have used for a long time started to get shut down over the past few weeks. A few of those actually displayed a notice:

    “This domain name has been seized by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Special Agent In Charge New York Office in accordance with a seizure warrant obtained by the United States Attorney’s Office for Southern District of New York ……. ”

    I’ve seen that same message appear across a few sites. Anyway seems lots of different agencies are determined to keep me from keeping current with the latest episode of Entourage 🙂

    Oh well…gee it takes about 2 minutes to locate another place where the files all exist. It just seems like they are getting more involved trying to police the internet…..good luck with that.

  4. Claire
    Claire July 19, 2010 1:43 pm

    G.W.F. I do respect the WashPost (for what it is). And I’d love to read that series. But they’ve decided to put it in some new interactive format that causes both my browsers to go completely nuts. Firefox won’t play at all, no matter how much I enable JavaScript. Opera gives me such wild distortions and so much overlapping text that my eyes cross. Ah well.

    So … it sounds as if the U.S. fedgov is on the march, acting as an agent of the entertainment industry. Sigh. I’m not sure that’s what’s going on with the BurstNet/Blogetary take-down. But in either case it’s creepy.

    For the record (as a lot of long-time readers know), I’m a defender of creators’ rights and I don’t play movies or songs unless I have reason to believe I have the permission of the people who made them. BUT … I still detest the heavy-handed tactics and total tech-blindness of organizations like the RIAA or the MPAA. I think DRM and the DMCA are abominations. And it’s obscene that the fedgov has so blatantly become an enforcer for their bullying and idiocies.

    I guess the one good thing is — as you imply — that every attempt to enforce the impossible on the ‘Net just breeds contempt for the enforcers.

  5. Loki1776
    Loki1776 July 19, 2010 3:54 pm

    Claire, does this link to the WaPo article work for you?

    Also, could you delete my previous comment? I’d prefer to keep that email address private.

  6. Claire
    Claire July 19, 2010 3:56 pm

    Loki1776 (love that handle) — Yes, by golly. That works, thank you! And earlier comment deleted. Your address never showed to anybody but me … and now it’s gone.

  7. Pat
    Pat July 19, 2010 11:59 pm

    Fascinating article from The Washington Post.

    It’s a world gone paranoiac, where U. S. government is concerned. Much of govt intelligence is indeed the desire for control, but I think it began with the Cold War, and has continued——and escalated——ever since.

    Washington never knew how to handle Russia, the Eastern bloc, or Cuba (or its own inept CIA, for that matter).

    The Pentagon never understood brainwashing or guerrilla warfare.

    The fedgov never knew how to handle China’s saber-rattling, or Khrushchev’s pounding shoe at the U. N.

    Nixon’s personal paranoia didn’t help either.

    And the U. S. has never been able to control Israel, which——bringing down the wrath of God on my head (but I’m in good company with Helen Thomas)!——should never have gotten away with theft of the Palestinian land. The Middle East has always been “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” as Churchill said about Russia. But rather than try to comprehend, the govt just expects all to follow where it leads. The Middle East did not follow——thus, 9/11.

    I think much of this “hidden world” of intelligence is a result of all that historically went before, building on three-quarters of a century of paranoia and ineptitude. The fedgov doesn’t know how or when to stop reacting to bogeymen.

    The people involved now——Defense Dept, Super Users, et al in this article——admit the intelligence is too complex to handle. What they won’t admit is that their “intelligence” is a farce: what they are collecting is unnecessary, probably outmoded before they put it in place, and entirely unusable as an effective source of information. The “enemy” (whoever it is) is far ahead of them.

    The government has a history of reacting to, and bluffing its way through, intelligence matters, and has always been perverse in the technological quarter. Assuming technology to be for the good, all govt knows is to grab it (including intelligence) for itself, and apply it in bad ways *against* we the people and the rest of the world. It does not know how to recognize _productive_ communication, or see the benefits that are derived from it.

  8. Mister Fluffy The Avenger
    Mister Fluffy The Avenger July 20, 2010 9:37 am

    I’ve got an old ham/packet radio set in storage… I just couldn’t bear to get rid of it…. just in case.

    I wonder if it still works, and if there is anything resembling a 1980’s-era packet radio network at least semi-active.

  9. Blogetery « The Quick and the Dead
    Blogetery « The Quick and the Dead July 20, 2010 9:56 am

    […] There’s been quite a bit of conjecture about this affair being “a test of the Internet kill switch“. Apparently, it wasn’t quite that, yet. The Fibbies found some Al Quada material on a […]

  10. Rebecca Mastey » Politics » BurstNET panics, 70,000 bloggers lose their presence
    Rebecca Mastey » Politics » BurstNET panics, 70,000 bloggers lose their presence July 20, 2010 11:23 pm

    […] more likely (and unfortunate) possibility is the testing of an Internet Kill Switch. (Whether this is associated with the network-wide “kill switch” supported by Lieberman […]

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