Personal Tech

Al Qaeda-Linked Blogging Site Had History of Breaking the Law

A blogging website that was shut down suddenly last week for containing links to hit lists, bomb-making documents and Al Qaeda's new magazine "Inspire" had a lengthy history of breaking the law, but its violations were limited to copyright issues, not terrorism.

Upon learning from the FBI that the site,, contained links to terrorist materials, including bomb-making instructions and an al-Qaeda "hit list," the site's host, BurstNET, decided to shut down the site's server -- and the 73,671 blogs it hosted.

Stories and pictures posted by the individual bloggers are in deep storage, with no word on when they'll see their content -- a reality that disturbs civil-liberties advocates.

"That's the real tragedy here -- thousands and thousands of sites appear to be collateral damage," Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), told

"I understand and do sympathize with Blogeterey's users," said BurstNET chief technology officer Joe Marr. "Unfortunately, the person who owns the domain had multiple violations since December," when he started the site.

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Marr told that he could not identify Blogetery's mysterious owner, at the request of the FBI, though he said the service had been warned on five separate occasions of copyright violations.

"But when we received the FBI request, we saw he was again violating our terms of service -- in a more severe fashion."

Marr pointed out that this wasn't Blogetery's first suspension; he said the service was suspended on April 10 for copyright violations, at which point BurstNET didn't hear from the owner for three days.

Marr explained that his company doesn't monitor the content of the various sites it hosts, so BurstNET was unaware of the Al Qaeda material.

"We don’t really know what is hosted or what the intent of the service is. We don't police it," he said.

But he said BurstNET did confirm the existence of the links and bomb-making documents, as well as a link to "Inspire," a flashy new Al Qaeda magazine that features bomb-making instructions and an article by Usama bin Laden. 

In a statement posted to its site Monday, BurstNET acknowledged the shutdown, stating that it had received a "Voluntary Emergency Disclosure of Information" request from the FBI.

"In the evening of July 9, 2010, BurstNET received a notice of a critical nature from law enforcement officials, and was asked to provide information regarding ownership of the server hosting," the statement said.

"Upon review, BurstNET determined that the posted material, in addition to potentially inciting dangerous activities, specifically violated the BurstNET Acceptable Use Policy," which prohibits the posting of “terrorist propaganda, racist material, or bomb/weapon instructions."

The EFF's Opsahl said the request sounded similar to an exigent circumstance letter, a request for the voluntary disclosure of information based on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

"There has been a history of abuse of these letters," Opsahl noted. He pointed out that in January, the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Justice issued a report concluding that the FBI improperly sought phone records through false assertions, and by replacing standard signatures with rubber-stamp approvals.

That said, such notices are not a vehicle for taking down information; they're for finding the people responsible for posting the dangerous information, Opsahl said.


Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.