By STEVE LOHR
A free blogging site, Blogetery.com, went dark less than two weeks ago, and its disappearance is stirring controversy about the obligations of Internet services and threats to free speech on the Web.
Visitors to Blogetery, which says it housed 73,000 blogs, now find a page that is blank except for a brief message saying “our server was terminated without any notification or explanation.” It directs browsers to a forum on another site, where a message posted on July 14 by “AffiliatePlex” described the abrupt termination by BurstNet Technologies, a Web hosting company in Scranton, Pa., saying it was done at the request of unnamed “law enforcement officials.”
BurstNet said in a statement on Monday that it had shut down Blogetery after the F.B.I informed it that the site included “a link to terrorist material,” including bomb-making instructions and an Al Qaeda list of Americans targeted for assassination. CNet News reported Monday that the material was connected to a new Al Qaeda recruitment magazine.
AffiliatePlex, the name on the forum posting, is also the name of an Internet marketing company in Toronto. It lists Blogetery as one of its services, along with marketing tools like a “Facebook cloaking script,” which its site describes as a way to sneak prohibited ads past Facebook’s human reviewers.
In an interview on Tuesday, Alexander Yusupov, who said he was the owner and sole employee of AffiliatePlex, said that he returned to Toronto from a weekend camping trip on July 12 and found BurstNet had pulled the plug on Blogetery.
Mr. Yusupov said the hosting company did not show him any law enforcement documentation or tell him where the terrorist material appeared on his site. “They just took it down,” he said.
BurstNet’s chief technology officer, Joe Marr, said in an interview on Tuesday that the Blogetery site had received five previous notifications in the last six months of improper material on its blogs. The previous ones were for links to copyrighted music, movies and software. Standard practice for BurstNet, he said, is to notify a site about illegal content, send a second warning after 24 hours, and disconnect the servers after 48 hours. Nearly all such issues are resolved within 24 hours, he said.
But not for Blogetery, Mr. Marr said. Last April, the blogging site was down for more than four days after it failed to address warnings.
The F.B.I., he said, did not order BurstNet to shut down the site. It did so, Mr. Marr said, because of this incident and Mr. Yusupov’s past troubles. “This isn’t the first time for him,” he said.
Mr. Yusupov said that he had responded to previous warnings from BurstNet “almost always within 24 hours.”
John Morris, general counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said that while he did not know the details of the case, the shutdown does “encapsulate the fragility of free speech on the Internet” and its dependence on the behavior of private companies.
And Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said the “tragedy is that thousands of blogs will be taken offline for no good reason.”
Mr. Yusupov said he had backed up some of the blogging site’s data, but not all. And he said he was trying to negotiate with BurstNet to get the data so he could restart the blogging site with another hosting service. “This has been a big hassle for me,” he said.
Mr. Marr of BurstNet said the Blogetery server did “not get a lot of use or traffic,” suggesting the number of active users of the free blogging site was probably a tiny fraction of the 73,000 Blogetery claimed.
BurstNet, Mr. Marr said, does not screen the material on the servers it leases to customers, so it was unaware that the shutdown might put some bloggers in the dark. “We extend our sympathies and apologies to them,” he said.