JotForm takedown shows anti-SOPA hysteria wasn't alarming enough

Secret Service takes down JotForm, lets it up again, still with no explanation

Top execs at the SOPA-promoting RIAA said over and over that the process of addressing alleged copyright infringements would be open and fair, not the secret-accusations-in-a-back-room affair most SOPA opponents imagined it would be.

All opponents had to go on was the language in the act, which described a process in which those claiming to own copyrights could make accusations to law enforcement agencies, which would go enforce the law without having to validate that the accusations were true or that the accuser actually owned the copyright.

That's all silly politics, right? Propaganda. Hating from the pro, hating from the con.

The process would be ruled by the U.S. legal system, so enforcement would not be random, mysterious, unexplained or capricious. Right?

Apropos of nothing, JotForm is back online.

Jotform is the digital-forms site that was shut down by the U.S. Secret Service Feb. 15 by ordering domain-name registrar GoDaddy to remove Jotform.com from its DNS entries, effectively making it disappear from the Internet.

Jotform got no notice ahead of time that an investigation was going on or that its site would be shut down.

After it was shut down with no explanation of why, according to a blog entry by JotForm cofounder Aytekin Tank announcing the takedown.

Tank and everyone else assumed the reason was an allegation of copyright violations in one of the 2 million forms users have uploaded or created on the site, but didn't hear that from the Secret Service.

Tank's contact at GoDaddy told him the shutdown was due to a Secret Service investigation and gave him a number to call.

When he used ti to contact the Secret Service agent in charge of the operation for an explanation, she said she was busy, asked for his phone number and promised to call him back, according to a later post from Tank.

Yesterday afternoon GoDaddy got word from wherever Internet-shutdown orders come from that it could put JotForm back in its DNS listings. GoDaddy got no further explanations; JotForm got no explanations at all.

"We will probably never find out the reason for the suspension," Tank wrote in an email to customers. "It has been a very difficult two days for both our users and for us. So, I hope this is the end."

A Secret Service spokesman told CNET the agency was "aware of the incident" and was "reviewing it internally to make sure all the proper procedures and protocols were followed."

It sounds as if the only protocol that was followed was the silent treatment – an approach favored by authoritarian organizations that consider it their right to enforce the rules but view any questions about their methods to be interference from perpetrators who have no right to know for what they're being harassed or arrested anyway.

I'm sure there was more to it than that; it can't be that one Secret Service officer made the decision that JotForm was probably guilty of copyright violation based on anonymous accusations. It can't be that the Secret Service would shut down an entire business so indolently that the agent who made the decision didn't care enough about it even to tell the alleged perpetrator it had happened, let alone why.

Having the whole thing just go away so JotForm could pop up on the 'net again – still with no explanation for why it was disappeared in the first place – makes the whole process more capricious, less predictable and expands the degree to which the whole thing violates the due-process rights of the web sites being shut down.

That may seem like no big deal to many, especially when the topic is music-, movie- and software piracy, a lot of which goes on online even though it doesn't do a fraction the amount of damage copyright holders claim.

But in the real world, how loud would the screaming be, how severe would be the penalties for agents involved if the Secret Service rolled up in front of a retail store, ordered it to close its doors, padlocked the place, placed a guard to make sure it wasn't reopened and then drove off without an explanation?

Especially if no one from the agency would even take the time to say why the store had been shut down, how long it would be padlocked and who was accusing it of wrongdoing?

Most especially if many of the evidence, arguments and justifications pro-SOPA forces present to defend their extra-legal view of the judicial system turn out to be either misrepresentations, or outright fiction?

A number of agents would be looking for civilian work and a number of the accusers would be lawyering up in preparation for civil suits or criminal prosecutions for making false accusations and violating the civil rights of their victims.

Online, even in the wake of a massive wave of protest against both SOPA and the attitudes toward enforcement it sought to encode, the outrage is muted, repercussions are nonexistent and possibility that anyone but JotForm broke the law isn't even discussed.

Another triumph for RIAA and MPAA! The two continue to demonstrate how effective they are at fighting dirty – crushing others into the mud in order to enforce the whims of the powerful even at the cost of violating the most basic rights of the accused.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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