Court orders three H-1B sites disabled

Judge's ruling to shut down three opposition sites is part of Apex libel lawsuit

A New Jersey judge has ordered the shutdown of three H-1B opposition Web sites and seeks information about the identity of anonymous posters.

On Dec. 23, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge James Hurley ordered firms that register domains and provide hosting services -- GoDaddy Inc., Network Solutions, Comcast Cable Communications Inc. and DiscountASP.Net, to disable the three sites, ITgrunt.com, Endh1b.com, and Guestworkerfraud.com. Facebook Inc. was also ordered to disable ITgrunt's Facebook page.

DiscountASP.Net said it has disabled Endh1b.com after it received the order from the New Jersey Superior Court. The order did not request any account information, only that the company "...immediately shut down and disable the website www.endh1b.com until further order of this court..," a spokesman said in an email. Facebook said it received the document Monday.

GoDaddy is complying with the order and has suspended the web hosting for ITgrunt.com, said Laurie Anderson. GoDaddy disputes manager, domain services.

The web site Endh1b.com is registered but not hosted at Go Daddy, Anderson added in an e-mail. "Both domain names have been placed on registrar lock due to the pending litigation. When Go Daddy receives a court order, it is standard procedure to comply," she said.

Hurley's order was made in response to a libel lawsuit filed by IT services and consulting firm Apex Technology Group Inc., based in Edison, N.J. against the three Web sites opposing the H-1B visa program.

The issue is creating a stir among H-1B opponents working in IT-related jobs who fear their posts could result in the loss of their jobs.

Two of the sites, itgrunt.com and endh1b.com, were offline this morning, but guestworkerfraud.com remained operating.

The company is seeking the identity of a person who posted an Apex employment agreement on Docstoc.com, that has since been removed. A link to the document and comments critical of it has been posted on a variety of Web sites, including at least one in India, on Desicrunch.com. The comment broadly alleges that employees will find it difficult to leave Apex because of its contract terms.

Apex, in one legal filing, said the allegations by the anonymous posters are false and defamatory, and were hurting the company. In the filing, Apex said it "has had three consultants refuse to report for employment" as a result postings, according to legal documents.

Apex said it is also seeking "contact details of the individual who posted this legal agreement without permission since we are the copyright owner of the legal document."

Accoring to court documents, a writer responding to admin@endh1b.com wrote that the site has "not posted a legal agreement and don't have the contact details of anyone of our contributors. We will also protect the privacy of any members of our community."

Patrick Papalia, an attorney representing Apex, said that the company has already identified an employee who left the initial comment. But he said the issue goes well beyond the agreement and involves threatening and racist comments against company officials, as well as ongoing allegations that it is engaging in illegal activities. "Apex has an outstanding reputation in the information technology field," he said.

John Miano, who heads the Programmers Guild and is also an attorney, and who one represented one the parties involved in the dispute, said it is "rather chilling" to have a court in New Jersey ordering the shutdown of Web sites operated by people with no connection to New Jersey.

The operator of ITgrunt.com deferred questions to Donna Conroy, who heads Bright Future Jobs, an activist organization on the H-1B issue, who detailed her concerns about it in a post on her site.

In an email, she said, "I'm astonished that an American judge would force American web sites to rat on American workers who wouldn't snitch on an Indian H-1B. If this order stands, it will rob the security every American expects when they post complaints anonymously or express their opinions on-line. It will create a credible threat that Americans could face retaliation from any current or former employer."

The operator of Guestworkerfraud.com linked to ITgrunt.com's blog entry and said he added some comments of his own. He doesn't allow comments on this site. He has since removed the entry concerning Apex. He says he won't let the New Jersey judge "run the Internet and silence free speech by shutting down the whole site. Hence, my site is still up." He asked that his name not be used, in response to an email.

The ISPs and registrars were contacted. ITgrunt operates a page on Facebook. A company spokesman said it has not been formally served. The other companies didn't respond by press time.

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