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Did GoDaddy and Homeland Security shut down a Mexican protest site?

Did GoDaddy and Homeland Security shut down a Mexican protest site?

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On December 1st of 2013, the Mexican protest site celebrated its first anniversary with a banner headline: "One year of struggle… and counting!" It was a simple site documenting the mass demonstrations in the wake of President Nieto’s inauguration. Scroll through, and you’d find YouTube videos documenting activist arrests and police brutality, a collectively edited stream designed to organize the opposition.

But the next day, the group got an unpleasant surprise: the site was taken down, abruptly unplugged from its hosting service.

The site was part of a criminal investigation

Ever since, 1dmx has been scrambling to figure out why. GoDaddy sent an enigmatic email saying the group had violated the terms of service, but didn’t say how. When the site's owners pushed for more information, GoDaddy told them they were part a criminal investigation triggered by the Department of Homeland Security's Mexico City branch. Somewhere, someone had tagged them as a threat to national security, and taken down in the process.

To get to the bottom of it all, 1dmx has launched a lawsuit, drawing on help from web rights groups like Access and Mexico's R3D. But with no clear idea of who ordered the takedown, the suit could crash before it gets off the ground. Unless lawyers can come up with a department to name as plaintiff by May 27th, the suit will be dismissed.

"It was a kind of revenge."

As a result, they’re scrambling through every possible suspect. The US embassy is listed on the takedown notice, but denies any involvement. Access says it has indications that Mexico's Federal Police were also involved in the request, offering a more plausible suspect, but it’s not clear how or why. 1dmx wasn't popular with the Mexican government, but many find it puzzling that federal police would go to so much trouble to shut down a protest site. "It was kind of a revenge for all the headaches that student protests have caused," says R3D's Luis Fernando Garcia, who's representing 1dmx in court. "They just feel so powerful that they feel they can do whatever they want and there won't be any consequences."

Garcia is pushing for the government to explain itself, but because of the strange nature of the takedown request, it's not clear if 1dmx will ever get its day in court. With DHS, GoDaddy and Mexican law enforcement all refusing to comment, it’s become difficult to tell who originally wanted the site taken down, making it impossible to hold them accountable. It’s left the protesters in a difficult spot: how can you keep a site live when you don’t even know whom to sue?

"They feel they can do whatever they want and there won't be consequences."

The site was reinstated in April — GoDaddy said the investigation was now over-- but by then 1dmx had moved to a new URL and a new host. GoDaddy still isn't giving information about how or why the request came through. GoDaddy initially told 1dmx that a Homeland Security agent was responsible for the investigation, but the agency has stonewalled all requests for more information. (The agency did not respond to repeated requests for comment.) Unless the agency talks, 1dmx may be stuck. "It's important to push this all the way through," Garcia says "and the US is getting in the way of that."

"Someone requested this suspension."

It's part of a troubling pattern from GoDaddy, which has shut down sites for similarly vague reasons in the past. In 2012, the coding site JotForm faced a similar problem over a Secret Service request, and had the same problems restoring service and finding out who was behind the order. The company has also worked closely with DHS to take down sites hosting pirated materials, but outside of the specific anti-piracy provisions of the DMCA, it’s unclear what would warrant 1dmx’s speedy takedown.

Reached for comment, a GoDaddy representative said the company does not require a court order for site takedowns, but relies on an internal vetting process. "We always strive to balance our customer interests with law enforcement requests," the company said. "When we receive a request from law enforcement we carefully evaluate it, and take the necessary steps if warranted."

For Garcia and 1dmx, that just isn’t enough. "Someone requested this suspension," Garcia says. "It didn't happen by itself."