Web Hosts Giving a Forum to Terrorists' Videos

April 19, 2005 - (HOSTSEARCH.COM) - In a news article published today Reuters declared that Islamic militants are increasingly turning to the internet and “well established and less sensational Islamist sites” to distribute their proclamations and videos of terrorist attacks including bombings and beheadings.

In one such Internet clip, a blast and a fireball shake the camera as militants repeat "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) on a video purporting to show this month's truck bombing of a Baghdad hotel. Stray dogs are seen running away from the scene.

"It's probably just a question of time before we get a live transmission of a decapitation," said Amir Golestan, head of U.S. Web hosting firm Micfo. The host was under investigation for hosting Al Ansar which has subsequently moved to a different provider however no laws were found to be broken.

"It becomes an endless 'whack-a-mole' game, where a site is shut on one server but pops up on another," said Roger Cressey, a former White House official who heads a security consultancy.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda Organization for Holy War in Iraq says it will soon launch its permanent site with news of its operations against "crusader" U.S. forces.

This raises serious issues regarding the responsibility and moral obligations of web hosting providers over the administration of content on the sites they host. This is an especially tricky point when it comes to the military and political struggle between different groups. While it’s easy to say Al Qaeda should rightly be shut out of the web whenever possible it leaves one to wonder over sites that publish content from groups like the PLO, the IRA, or even anti-US Iraqi groups that have legitimate claims, if not always legal or moral means of operations, against the groups they are opposing.

For a host like RackForce with tens of thousands of web sites, which briefly hosted the Al Qaeda linked Shareeah.org, it is impractical if not impossible to monitor all content on all of the sites it hosts, especially when it comes to video.

“Hosting Service Providers are much more complicated entities then some people realize. Our customers resell what we provide them and we don’t sell to the end user. However since we own our own netblocks some people think that we are also aware of every web site on our system. With more than 80,000 web sites we can’t supervise every site nor can we respond to every abuse report,” said RackForce’s Vice President Brian Fry in an interview with HostSearch.com, ”We have a strict Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and react to qualified reports and take the appropriate steps. In the Shareeah.org site we were made aware of the site by the RCMP (Canada’s main law enforcement agency) and asked to leave it operating so that it could be tracked. We then removed it when the RCMP asked that it be removed.”

Perhaps law enforcement could take a ‘honeypot’ approach to sites like these and keep them running in order to catch terrorists and keep a watch on potential extremist risks but that doesn’t take into account how these hateful messages can influence other people.

Groups like the United Nations are rarely if ever able to come to a consensus on the issues they face and with the greater part of the world potentially coming online in this century it is a difficult question as to how to control information in the largely lawless world of cyberspace.

Technology is increasingly ‘shrinking’ the world and still we never learn.

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