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Cloudflare Pulls Protection From Far Right Daily Stormer Website

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Cloudflare CEO said it was a difficult decision but US civil liberties group hits out at tech firms for clampdown

Hosting security provider CloudFlare has terminated its protective service for the far right website The Daily Stormer.

It comes after other tech firms, such as GoDaddy and Google this week withdrew their domain name registrar services from publication.

But civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation criticised the move of the tech firms, saying that their actions were “dangerous” and threatened free expression online.

censor gag free speech right to be forgotten silence © Alexandru Logel ShutterstockVigilante Justice?

Cloudflare’s chief executive Matthew Prince explained his reasoning for shutting down the protective service in a blog, and he admitted he had struggled with the ‘dangerous decision’.

“Earlier today, Cloudflare terminated the account of the Daily Stormer,” he wrote. “We’ve stopped proxying their traffic and stopped answering DNS requests for their sites. We’ve taken measures to ensure that they cannot sign up for Cloudflare’s services ever again.

“Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users of our network at our sole discretion. The tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology.

“Our team has been thorough and have had thoughtful discussions for years about what the right policy was on censoring,. Like a lot of people, we’ve felt angry at these hateful people for a long time but we have followed the law and remained content neutral as a network. We could not remain neutral after these claims of secret support by Cloudflare.”

Prince then went onto debate how the firm’s decision was potentially very dangerous for the Internet as a whole, and could lead to “vigilante justice”.

It should be noted that this is not the first time Cloudflare has been involved in a debate like this.

In 2015 CloudFlare was accused of using its CloudFlare CDN (content delivery network) to protect up to 40 Islamic State websites. Hacker group Anonymous alleged that the CloudFlare CDN, which protects customers against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, was also being used by these terrorists to protect their own extremist websites against attempts by Anonymous to down their servers.

And CloudFlare for its part has previously acknowledged that questionable and offensive websites use its network.

In July 2012 for example, CloudFlare’s Prince publicly admitted that offensive material is protected by its service, but he said that it did so because of its belief in free speech.

The Daily Stormer has been at the centre of debate concerning the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia following the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park.

It wrote an article that abused the memory of a woman (Heather Heyer) who died during protests in the college town when a car rammed into protesters against a far-right rally.

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Free Speech

But now US digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation has waded into the argument and criticised web companies for removing neo-Nazi groups from servers and services.

“In the wake of Charlottesville, both GoDaddy and Google have refused to manage the domain registration for the Daily Stormer,” the group blogged. “Subsequently Cloudflare, whose service was used to protect the site from denial-of-service attacks, has also dropped them as a customer.

“All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country. But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with. Those on the left face calls to characterize the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group.

“Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected. We do it because we believe that no one – not the government and not private commercial enterprises – should decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t.

“But we strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare did here was dangerous. That’s because, even when the facts are the most vile, we must remain vigilant when platforms exercise these rights.”

Meanwhile Cloudflare’s Prince told Reuters he “wholeheartedly agreed” with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s post and said he was hopeful it would help spark a more thoughtful debate about internet regulation.

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