Will the U.S. Government Continue to Duck Accountability for an Unlawful Website Takedown?

Access is still on the hunt for the truth about the takedown of Mexican political protest website 1dmx.org.

In December 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asked GoDaddy to take down the site, as its users memorialized the one-year anniversary of the police brutality that followed President Enrique Peña Nieto’s inauguration in 2012.

Earlier this year, Access demanded that DHS investigate the site’s suspension. After months of repeated refusals from the agency, Access submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get to the bottom of the takedown. The FOIA request has since been forwarded to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We urge ICE to break the silence about the U.S. government’s role in censoring 1dmx.org.

The Takedown

Although initially unclear, GoDaddy eventually explained that it took down 1dmx.org after receiving a takedown request from a Department of Homeland Security official stationed in Mexico City. In the days and weeks that followed, it became apparent that the initial request likely came from a Mexican agency and passed through channels at DHS. According to one outlet, GoDaddy confirmed to Mexican human rights lawyer Luis Fernando Garcia that the request came from the Mexican National Security Commission, but would not state so publicly.

Represented by the lawyer Garcia, the site went public with a lawsuit against the Mexican government on March 4, 2014. Just a day later, GoDaddy lifted the block on the website without any explanation or notice.

Pushing for Accountability

In April 2014, Access reached out to DHS, the State Department, and the Obama administration to request an investigation into the takedown of 1dmx.org. DHS ignored repeated requests from Access, other organizations, and journalists to take action or comment on its role in the site’s suspension.

In May 2014, the agency’s silence stalled efforts to obtain justice for the political activists and users that were censored by the takedown of 1dmx.org. A Mexican judge dismissed the site’s lawsuit after both Mexican and American authorities refused to reveal what led to the site’s suspension or accept responsibility for its censorship.

Meanwhile, GoDaddy has not publicly acknowledged its own role. Did the company receive a lawful, written order explaining the legal basis for the takedown request, signed by the proper government authority? If so, did the company narrowly interpret the governmental authority’s jurisdiction and demands so as to minimize the negative effects on freedom of expression? How did it make the decision to lift the 1dmx.org suspension?

With no other option left to uncover the truth, Access filed a FOIA request on August 5, 2014. On August 27, DHS responded, sort of. The agency did not turn over a single internal document related to the takedown of 1dmx.org, other than Access’s own emails to the agency. Its response reflects an attempt to duck responsibility, flying in the face of the DHS’s commitments to transparency, accountability, and compliance with the privacy policies and principles recently reiterated in its 2014 report to Congress.

Now, ICE has the opportunity to rectify this miscarriage of justice against 1dmx.org, and the political activists who were denied their right to free speech, by revealing details on the Mexican agency’s request that DHS forwarded to GoDaddy. As the situation develops, Access will continue to push the U.S. government and GoDaddy to disclose their roles in the censorship of 1dmx.org, and to work with partners in Mexico to seek remedy for this egregious act of censorship.