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Dotster under fire for Web content
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The Columbian
By COURTNEY SHERWOOD, Columbian staff writer
Tuesday, May 06, 2008

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A group of self-described anti-terrorist vigilantes has put the heat on Vancouver-based Dotster Inc. for hosting an Arabic- and Somali- language Web site that frequently praises leaders in Somalia’s al-Qaida organization.

Dotster officials said they pass along all complaints to law enforcement agencies, but unless required by law, the company does not remove its customers’ content from the Internet.

The site under fire, kataaib.net, is associated with the Shabab movement in war- and genocide-torn Somalia, according to reports from the BBC and Reuters. In addition to praising Islamist militants, the site lists news about battles and bombings in Somalia. “Kataaib” is Arabic for “Brigades.”

Florida resident Bill Warner, who describes himself as an anti-terrorist vigilante, is among a collection of online activists who want to use public pressure on Dotster to get kataaib.net shut down. Dotster, a Web registration and hosting company, generates revenue by hosting Web sites. It has hosted kataaib.net since April 13, 2007, according to Internet records.

“The actual terrorists are out in the field blowing things up,” Warner said. “But there are groups like this one that associate with al-Qaida through Web sites, that help promote the ideology, help find new recruits and help the effort to support terrorism.”

“We are not in a position to judge and be a jury on what content may be legal or acceptable,” said Brian Unruh, chief financial officer at Dotster. He would not comment specifically about kataaib.net, except to say, “We feel we have escalated this to the right authorities.”

Complaints routine

Dotster routinely receives complaints about Web sites it hosts, and evaluates each complaint before forwarding on potentially criminal sites to law enforcement agencies, Unruh said.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to freedom of speech and expression, and for that reason Dotster attempts to be very careful about balancing the rights of its customers with other concerns, Unruh said.

“We don’t censor people based on what they say, as long as it’s legal,” he said. “We may not agree with some activities our customers do, but we are not in a position to be judge and jury. If the authorities issue an order to take down a site, we follow that order.”

The legal process that might eventually lead to an order to take down kataaib.net is too slow, Warner said. He hopes that attention and a public outcry may change Dotster officials’ minds.

“It’s not freedom of speech,” Warner said. “This site should not be hosted in Vancouver.”

Courtney Sherwood covers high-tech businesses. Reach her at 360-735-4553 or [email protected]

Source: The Columbian, May 06, 2008