JotForm, like so many domains, is a multi-user site; specifically, the site provides a web developer community with a way to create and share web forms. On 15 February, co-founder Aytekin Tank posted the following on the JotForm blog:
"As a part of an ongoing investigation about a content posted in our site, a US government agency has temporarily suspended our jotform.com domain. We are fully cooperating with them, but it is not possible to say when the domain would be unblocked."
The details of the investigation are covered elsewhere, but for the sake of summary, reports (1,2) claim that a Secret Service agent asked (or ordered) GoDaddy to suspend name resolution for jotform.com. GoDaddy allegedly complied with this request without a court order. JotForm.com went dark, and according to Aytekin Tank, without notice.
Registrars or registries do take actions against registrants who violate acceptable use or terms of service, or when law enforcement or security practitioners involved in anticrime, antiphishing, or antispam present compelling data that expose criminal acts. Internet users mostly benefit from these actions. I'm an advocate of this practice, which is usually highly efficient and protective of the rights of domain holders and Internet users.
Collateral Damage in Virtual Space
Without commenting on whether GoDaddy or the Secret Service correctly handled the event, JotForm gives us a concrete and timely example of a domain name suspension with collateral damage to study. Let's take a moment to consider how legislation that would compel providers to respond to every request of the JotForm kind would play out if passed, and how differently the reaction might be were a similar law enacted in the physical world.
In this event, name resolution for JotForm.com was suspended to prevent a JotForm user from making an alleged phishing web form available. This action did more than this. It blocked every JotForm user from creating, sharing and utilizing web forms for legitimate purposes. This is a fairly draconian act but acts of this kind are easily trivialized by anti-piracy advocates because the collateral damage can be dismissed by phrases like "it's just users" or "what's the fuss, it's just one domain name".
Collateral Damage in Meat Space
Let's consider how a similar event would play out in meatspace. An occupant of a multi-tenant dwelling is suspected of printing music CDs in his apartment. Under a Stop Piracy In MeatSpace act, the apartment building landlord receives an order to bar the building's entry doors to prevent the "pirate" tenant from entering his apartment, gaining access to (and perhaps destroying his stash of) illegal music CDs.
Is this any more draconian than an online piracy act? Does "it's just tenants" and "it's just a single building" sound reasonable? Constitutional? Would any politician support such legislation in the physical world?
No, no, and no. Whether virtual space or meatspace, we must exercise care in drafting legislation so that it is "scalpel" precise.