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After Attacks, Change.org Asks 'Where's the State Department?'

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, April 20 2011

Photo credit: Meneer De Braker

Yesterday, we noted that Change.org was reporting that it was the victim of a distributed denial of service attack originating from China, and was calling on the State Department for help in keeping their online social action platform up and running. The apparent target of the attacks was a petition for the release of Chinese artists Ai Weiwei, which has more than 90,000 signatures at the moment.  “Our engineers have been able to keep up the site during parts of the attack," said Change.org founder Ben Rattray in a statement, "but we've had some down time and without government assistance there are limits to what we can do.”

A little unclear was what the company wanted the State Department to actually do. Site editor Benjamin Joffe-Walt responded that they're looking for Hillary Clinton and company to press Beijing on their behalf:

While from a technical perspective we are experiencing an ongoing, highly sophisticated denial of service attack, this is essentially a political attack and clearly in response to the viral success of a campaign by leading global art museums to free China's most famous artist.

In the past, the State Department has aggressively gone to bat for U.S. corporations attacked from China. This is worse: here we have a situation in which sources in China are directly attacking the right of American citizens to legally and democratically organize. But where is the State Department? Isn't a public statement of condemnation in order?

It wouldn't be the first time. Back in late January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the Chinese government to "conduct a thorough investigation of the cyber intrusions" into Google's systems, including Gmail. Now, Change.org isn't Google. And the company benefits from additional attention to its Ai Weiwei campaign (and, for that matter, to their platform, which, by Rattray's own telling, has struggled until recently to get traction). But Clinton's advancing of her "Internet freedom" agenda has certainly raised her profile as somebody American companies can call on when something goes wrong on the Internet.

Joffe-Walt says that Change.org's in-house technical team has traced the origin of the attacks back to "several China-allocated IP blocks."

Clinton has directly called for the release of Ai Weiwei.