An Israeli legal group is putting pressure on Cloudflare to stop doing business with terrorist groups, questioning why the web company was quick to oust a white supremacist website but still hosts accounts linked to Hamas.
Cloudflare cut ties with the Daily Stormer earlier this month, saying the website violated company policy by claiming to have support of Cloudflare.
Company CEO Matthew Prince said at the time that he was afraid of the standard he was setting, and promised to work through the issues.
Now he’s getting his first test as Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of the Israeli legal center Shurat HaDin, says Cloudflare is still serving many websites linked to Hamas and other designated terrorist organizations, which have amassed higher body counts than American neo-Nazi sympathizers.
She said while Cloudflare’s decision to cut off Daily Stormer was a choice, the company has legal obligations — which it might be violating — to stop providing assistance to U.S.-designated terrorist groups.
“This is not a matter of free speech. We are urging the company to comply with U.S. law,” she said in a letter to Mr. Prince. “By providing Hamas support, Cloudflare aids and abets terrorist attacks and makes itself liable for the dangerous violence being perpetrated.”
She said her group is considering taking legal action against Cloudflare if it doesn’t satisfy her request.
A spokesperson for Cloudflare told The Washington Times the company is aware of obligations under U.S. law and is in compliance.
However, the spokesperson said compliance is challenging for tech companies because the U.S. government doesn’t provide a list of IP addresses or websites that might be connected with sanctioned individuals and entities.
“Over the past few years, we have been engaged in ongoing discussions with a number of law enforcement and national security organizations to determine the best way forward in this area and continue to review and update our compliance efforts,” the spokesperson said.
Internet freedom advocates said Cloudflare’s move raised big questions about the company’s claims to want to preserve an open web.
“It’s difficult to get upset about Nazi speech being banned, but the long term precedent set by Cloudflare’s capitulation to pressures for censorship are much more of a concern,” said Jeremy Malcolm, senior global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Ms. Darshan-Leitner has previously filed challenges against Twitter and YouTube, arguing they are violating the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act by being a conduit for communications of the Islamic State terrorists.
One federal court has already dismissed Ms. Darshan-Leitner’s lawsuit against Facebook, citing the Communications Decency Act (CDA) protections. Under the CDA, social media companies and domain carriers escape liability because they’re considered conduits, not publishers, of information.
Ms. Darshan-Leitner says her case isn’t based on content of the websites, but rather on the service provided to terrorists.
Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer, said Cloudflare could oust terrorism-connected websites voluntarily, as it did with Daily Stormer, but probably won’t be required to take action under the law.
“I do not believe Cloudflare carrying whatever Hamas may put out constitutes any sort of service as that term is understood,” said Mr. Abrams.
In addition to Cloudflare, GoDaddy and Google also stopped work with Daily Stormer after the website ran articles praising the neo-Nazi protests and mocking Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters.
In a statement posted to Cloudflare’s website after the Daily Stormer decision, Mr. Prince said the company had resisted calls for censorship before, but this time was different. He said they ousted the website not because of its views, but because Daily Stormer claimed Cloudflare supported their ideology.
“We could not remain neutral after these claims of secret support by Cloudflare,” Mr. Prince said.
But he acknowledged the decision was “dangerous,” and could make it harder to fight against government demands of regulation or censorship.
“I don’t know the right answer, but I do know that as we work it out it’s critical we be clear, transparent, consistent and respectful of Due Process,” Mr. Prince wrote in his earlier statement.