Cloudflare accused of providing cyber-security to known terrorist groups
Lenin once said, "The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them." No doubt Hamas, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups are saying the same thing.
Tech giant Cloudflare apparently doesn't care whose money it gets for its services, only that it's paid on time. The company counts among its millions of clients several known foreign terrorist groups, including al-Shabaab, the Taliban, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, al-Quds Brigades, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
In the United States, it's a crime to knowingly provide tangible or intangible "material support" – including communications equipment – to a designated foreign terrorist organization or to provide service to an OFAC-sanctioned entity without special permission. Cloudflare, which is not authorized by the OFAC to do business with such organizations, has been informed on multiple occasions, dating back to at least 2012, that it is shielding terrorist groups behind its network, and it continues to do so.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other free speech advocates have long been critical of material support laws. The foundation described them as tools the government has used to "chill First Amendment protected activities" such as providing "expert advice and assistance" – including training for peacefully resolving conflicts – to designated foreign terrorist organizations. Many of the designated groups, the EFF has argued, also provide humanitarian assistance to their constituents.
But so far, free speech advocates' arguments haven't carried the day – which means that Cloudflare still could be breaking the law.
The EFF's reasoning is specious. Providing "training for peacefully resolving conflicts" presupposes that the terrorist groups are interested in peacefully resolving anything. It's also a joke that the terrorist groups provide "humanitarian assistance." That impulse is not born out of an altruistic desire to help people. It's a political tactic to maintain control of the population.
"We try to be neutral and not insert ourselves too much as the arbiter of what's allowed to be online," said Cloudflare's general counsel, Doug Kramer. However, he added, "we are very aware of our obligations under the sanctions laws. We think about this hard, and we've got a policy in place to stay in compliance with those laws." He declined to comment directly on the list of websites HuffPost provided to Cloudflare, citing privacy concerns.
Cloudflare secures and optimizes websites; it is not a domain host. Although Cloudflare doesn't host websites, its services are essential to the survival of controversial pages, which would otherwise be vulnerable to vigilante hacker campaigns known as distributed denial-of-service attacks. As the tech firm puts it, "The size and scale of the attacks that can now easily be launched online make it such that if you don't have a network like Cloudflare in front of your content, and you upset anyone, you will be knocked offline."
And this would be a bad thing? Allowing terrorists to easily and safely spread their propaganda makes Cloudflare complicit in the deaths of innocents. The only way you can escape that logic is to deny the reality of what these terrorist groups are espousing: violence and death for their enemies.
Even the hacker group Anonymous is upset with Cloudflare:
The international hacktivist group Anonymous accused Cloudflare of serving dozens of ISIS-affiliated websites in 2015, which Prince shrugged off as "armchair analysis" by "15-year-old kids in Guy Fawkes masks." In media interviews, he maintained that serving a terrorist entity is not akin to an endorsement and said only a few of the sites on Anonymous' list belonged to ISIS. Prince hinted that government authorities had ordered Cloudflare to keep certain controversial pages online. The FBI, Justice Department, State Department, Treasury Department and White House declined to comment on that assertion.
Cloudflare is hiding behind the First Amendment as surely as militant terrorists do. Why the government hasn't even tried to prosecute the company is a mystery.