December 15, 2018 at
Cloudflare, a company that offers quite a wide range of services in running a modern-day website, is currently facing accusations of protecting terrorist organizations’ websites. According to the accusations, the company is allegedly protecting at least seven organizations. Due to the seriousness of these accusations, legal experts claim that Cloudflare might end up being in legal jeopardy.
Among many different services that Cloudflare is offering, there is also DDoS protection, which protects websites from DDoS attacks. Considering the necessity of these and other services, Cloudflare successfully grew large enough that it claims to cover around 10% of all internet requests Furthermore, it is also supposedly preparing a $3.5 billion IPO.
However, on Friday, December 14th, HuffPost issued a report, claiming that their review of terrorist organization-owned websites confirmed that Cloudflare is protecting them by providing its services. HuffPost also contacted four different counter-extremism and national security experts, all of which confirmed the same.
According to the report, Cloudflare is protecting foreign terrorist organizations such as al-Shabab, al-Quds Brigades, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas, and the Taliban. All of these groups are sanctioned by the Treasury Department’s OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control).
Considering the fact that it is a crime to knowingly provide material support (tangible or intangible) to any confirmed terrorist organization, Cloudflare might suffer serious legal consequences. The company was allegedly informed about the fact that they are not authorized to provide support to such websites several times, however, they seem to have ignored those warnings.
Cloudflare supporting free speech
Many private companies, such as Facebook, choose to introduce certain limits regarding speech, which is disclosed in their terms of service. However, Cloudflare does not. While being a user of Facebook is everyone’s personal choice, and those who choose to become one have to obey Facebook’s rules, the situation is different for Cloudflare. This is a company that provides services such as domain registration, hosting, and online protection.
These are the kinds of services that go deep into the infrastructure of the internet itself. In fact, back in 2012, the company’s CEO, Matthew Prince, attempted to push back the idea that Cloudflare should try and regulate speech. He was successful, and even now, the firm’s policy is only to comply with obligations enforced by the law.
The policy also allows Cloudflare to choose to terminate services without having to provide a reason for doing so. One example of this is when Prince decided that the company should stop working with the Daily Stormer, a known neo-Nazi website. During the occasion, Princ wrote that those running the website are abhorrent, although his political choices should not determine who should or shouldn’t be on the internet.
He later elaborated this decision by saying that he “woke up in a bad mood” and has decided that the Daily Stormer should be kicked off the internet. While this doesn’t mean that he believes that terrorism should have an online presence, ever since ending the collaboration with the Daily Stormer, Prince has been an absolutist when it comes to protecting the company customers’ right to free speech.
Cloudflare collaborates with the US government
The biggest question right now is whether or not Cloudflare provides sanctioned organizations with material support. Providing anything, including communication equipment, without an authorization can be considered a crime in the US. Some attorneys have confirmed that this might be a violation of the law, while others argue that “material support” can be abused for the purpose of silencing free speech.
Cloudflare itself stated that the company collaborates with the US government in order to make sure that all legal obligations are properly met. When asked whether or not the company stops collaboration with a sanctioned group after getting such a request from the US government, the company’s general counsel, Doug Kramer, responded that he is not aware of Cloudflare ever being in such a situation. Instead, most such requests tend to come from political pressure groups or individuals.