I blogged about problems friends were having hosting Zimbabwean human rights sites on US webhosting company, Bluehost. In that post, I speculated that someone connected with the Mugabe government had alerted Bluehost to the Kubatana account as a way of harrassing an organization that’s often critical of the government.
That speculation was probably inaccurate. The situation with Bluehost apparently involves customers beyond Zimbabwe. Arash Abadpour, an Iranian student living in Canada, offers a translation from a blogpost on 1 Fathi about Bluehost shutting down Iranian blogs:
Since last week, Blue Host, the hosting service which is used for this very blog [and Kamangir as well], and the number one recommendation for WordPress hosting by WordPress itself, has adopted a policy of suspending its Iranian users. In some cases the bloggers have been given a short notice in order to back up their data and leave. This is despite Bluehostâ€™s good reputation in the blogosphere.
The matter of fact is that many of these bloggers, including Arash Kamangir who blogs at kamangir.net, have no connection to the Iranian administration and have had to take use of a foreign hosting service in order to freely express their opinions.
The author is fairly sympathetic to Bluehost, noting that the company’s terms of service make clear that they will not host services operated by people in “Sanctioned Countries presently include, among others, Balkans, Belarus, Burma, Cote dâ€™Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Iraq, former Liberian Regime of Charles Taylor, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe.” I’ve argued previously that Bluehost’s terms of service are poorly written, use an outdated list of sanctioned countries and don’t draw an adequate distinction between sanctioned and non-sanctioned individuals.
Indeed, Bluehost now understands that their Terms of Service and their current enforcement measures are ill-concieved – after hearing from the US Treasury Department, they agreed to reinstate Kubatana’s website… though Kubatana decided to move to a webhost that is more aggressive in protecting the speech rights of its customers. My hope is that they’ll rewrite their terms of service and tell their abuse staff to stop shutting down Iranian, Syrian and Zimbabwean blogs.
The fear is that web hosting providers may decide it’s simply less trouble to prohibit host blogs in countries where some individuals are sanctioned. In the comment thread on Arash’s post, Esra’a of Mideast Youth notes that Go Daddy appears to be following similar guidelines and has refused to host sites for their community.
This would be a great opportunity for Bluehost to stand up as a defender of free speech and write a terms of service that makes clear they’ll protect speech rights of their users. I suspect my friend David Ardia at the Citizen Media Law Center would offer suggestions on a terms of service that keeps US companies out of trouble with the Treasury Department while protecting speech rights. So far, Bluehost hasn’t shown themselves likely to follow this path, but we can always hope.
In the meantime, I offer the advice I did in a previous blogpost – if you’re blogging from Sudan, Syria, Zimbabwe, Liberia or anywhere else that has recently been under US sanctions, find a hosting provider who will defend your rights to use their service. Talk to your webhost, make sure they understand who you and and what you’re doing. Don’t assume that no one will notice – that’s what happened to the sites that have been taken down in the past couple of weeks.