The mysterious case of the disappearance of www.johnhowardpm.org

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After only 36 hours online, and 10,500 hits, the satirical web site, johnhowardpm.org mysteriously disappeared. Richard Neville – columnist, author and futurist – set up the site as a platform for his culture-jamming satirical John Howard speech.

The site was hosted at Yahoo and the domain had been registered with Melbourne IT. Neither organisation could explain what had happened with the web site for three days – it was just gone and they couldn’t do anything about it. In the interim, the speech had been mirrored in text and PDF formats on various sites so that people could see the content that had been disappeared. You may be able to find it through any of these links – though there’s nothing to guarantee that the same fate won’t befall any of these mirrors: OpEdNewsRichard Neville’s PDF versionTim Longhurst’s site with the text and some commentary.

Today, it emerges that Melbourne IT perhaps could have explained what had happened to the site because they were the ones responsible for it vanishing. They put the domain name on hold, which means it cannot be accessed and it cannot be transferred to any other internet name registrar. Basically, they’ve sent the site to a black hole for at least two months.

“But Melbourne IT is a respected, responsible internet name registrar”, I hear you cry, “They wouldn’t pull the plug on someone’s web site without following the due process! At the very least, they’d get in touch with the person who registered the domain.” You’d think so, wouldn’t you. Apparently not. I guess that’s why you pay the annual 368% premium for registering a domain with them. (Seriously folks – Melbourne IT: $140/2yrs – Domain Central: $38/2yrs)

After being contacted by Greg Williams of the People, Resources & Communications Division at the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet – along with three Federal Police – Melbourne IT unilaterally killed off the domain with not even a phone call or email to the registrant, let alone any sort of right of reply. It makes one wonder about both sides of that little communique: how willing are Melbourne IT to do anything that screws its customers in order to score some brownie points with the government; and what sort of threats or cajolements were offered by Greg Williams to have the matter attend so promptly and brutally?

Come to think of it, once the anti-terrorism bill becomes law Greg won’t need to trouble himself with a call to Melbourne IT – with all the attendant explaination of why they need to shut down a site – he’ll simply be able to send in some members of his friendly neighbourhood security service to pick up Richard, lock him up for a couple of weeks for interrogation, get him to take down the site and be done with it. Then we’ll be just left to wonder what happened, without any sort of resolution, safe in the knowledge that Richard would never, ever be allowed to speak about what had happened and we’d never, ever know.

If this is the length to which the government will go to over a simple parody, imagine what’s going to happen with serious critics once the sedition laws come in.

Update:
For a full chronology of the story, there’s a new post at Tim Longhurst’s site

  • March 21, 2006