Thursday, December 08, 2011

Feds seize website for whole year w/o due process, then leave

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Censored computer

Today in outrageous violations of First and Fourth Amendment rights (that we’ve only just uncovered):

Imagine if the US government, with no notice or warning, raided a small but popular magazine's offices over a Thanksgiving weekend, seized the company's printing presses, and told the world that the magazine was a criminal enterprise with a giant banner on their building. Then imagine that it never arrested anyone, never let a trial happen, and filed everything about the case under seal, not even letting the magazine's lawyers talk to the judge presiding over the case. And it continued to deny any due process at all for over a year, before finally just handing everything back to the magazine and pretending nothing happened. I expect most people would be outraged. I expect that nearly all of you would say that's a classic case of prior restraint, a massive First Amendment violation, and exactly the kind of thing that does not, or should not, happen in the United States.

But, in a story that's been in the making for over a year, and which we're exposing to the public for the first time now, this is exactly the scenario that has played out over the past year -- with the only difference being that, rather than "a printing press" and a "magazine," the story involved "a domain" and a "blog."


Okay, now some details. First, remember It was one of the sites seized over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend back in 2010 -- a little over a year ago. Those seizures struck us as particularly interesting, because among the sites seized were a bunch of hip hop blogs, including a few that were highly ranked on Vibe's list of the top hip hop blogs. These weren't the kinds of things anyone would expect, when supporters of these domain seizures and laws like SOPA and PROTECT IP talk of "rogue sites." Blogs would have lots of protected speech, and in the hip hop community these blogs, in particular, were like the new radio. Artists routinely leaked their works directly to these sites in order to promote their albums. We even pointed to a few cases of stars like Kanye West and Diddy tweeting links to some of the seized domains in the past.

The comparison between a press agency and a blog is an apt one, especially considering the sad but typical ignorance-laced indifference most people have towards the fact that even online journals are meant to be covered by the same free expression laws that protect major outlets from censorship. Indeed, if a media organization was shuttered by the government, everyone and their brother’s dog would be up in arms over it in a moment, but when the same happens to a small-time blog (even a relatively popular one), outrage goes right out the window to be replaced with complacency, or even outright disdain (“they’re not real news, why should they be protected?”). It’s an all-too-real phenomenon, and a very depressing one, considering how it effectively helps keep these miscarriages of justice, such as what happened to and countless others, in total secrecy.

In the end, though, I suppose people always think along the same lines: “Sure, a few unlucky bastards got caught up in collateral damage, but it’s for a good cause! And surely, the same would never happen to me.” Which is why, of course, legislation like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) are such good ideas that won’t possibly lead to more abuses and violations of people’s rights, including your own.

… Right?

(via @jayrosen_nyu)