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New Statesman article on server seizure

repost/retype | 30.10.2004 19:09 | FBI Server Seizure | Indymedia | Repression

What the FBI did
next (in London)
On 7 October, the London premises of Rackspace, a Texas-based company that houses and manages web-server computers used by Indymedia - the independent, internet-based global information service - received a surprise visit. A couple of men turned up, seized two web servers and promptly shut down 21 Indymedia sites.

Within hours, was back online; but at the time of writing, at least a dozen sites were missing large parts of their archives - more than a million text, image and sound files. Indymedia, which won the New States-man New Media Award for advocacy in 2002, was founded in the run-up to the World Trade Organisation protests in Seattle in 1999. Since then the network has expanded to more than 140 Indymedias, from Andorra to Uruguay. Who seized the servers? The first report that Indymedia received, from Rackspace, suggested that the US Federal Bureau of nvestigation had shown up with a war rant in London. Rackspace subsequently sought legal advice and is now prepared only to say that it complied with an order "pursuant to a mutual legal assistance treaty". Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police maintains that "we were not involved in that partic ular job". Another UK police spokesperson told me: "We are as mystified as you are as to who did this."
The FBI's Joe Parris told Agence France Presse that it was "not an FBI operation... the subpoena was on behalf of a third country ".It seems increasingly likely that the third country was Italy - where, as it happens, Indymedia volunteers were brutally beaten by police in Genoa in 2001.It seems alarmingly possible, as a UK civil liberties campaigner notes, that "The United States has been able to grab a very important media site without explaining what they are doing - and that, of course, is very worrying". "Someone wants to stifle these independent voices in journalism," Aidan White of the International Federation of Journalists told me: "We need a full investigation into why this action took place, who took part, and who authorised it."



Hide the following 2 comments


31.10.2004 11:55

the article came out in the 18th october edition


Information Super-highwaymen

01.11.2004 16:49

Another re-post on this from Red Pepper
"Information super-highwaymen"
Dave Jones
Red Pepper
November 2004

Corporate elites are using repressive and subversive methods to silence legitimate, independent media networks.

On 7 October US authorities seized two internet servers in London belonging to the independent media network Indymedia. More than 20 Indymedia websites around the world were shut down as a result of the raid, with the effective removal of almost 1 million articles. Indymedia immediately condemned the seizures as an unprecedented and unacceptable attack on independent media, press freedom, the freedom of speech, and the right to communicate.

The most chilling aspect of the seizures was the information blackout that followed. Indymedia was unable to discover who had actually seized their servers, who had ordered it, why it had happened, and where the servers had been taken.

The servers were seized from Rackspace, a US-based web hosting company with offices in London. Immediately following the seizure Rackspace would not comment on the incident, having seemingly been issued with a gagging order. Further enquiries with various police and law enforcement agencies in the US and the UK also drew a blank. Although initial reports suggested that the FBI had taken the servers, the FBI denied any involvement and the UK Home Office would neither confirm nor deny any knowledge of the incident.

‘The fact that the authorities’ actions are shrouded in mystery leaves Indymedia in the Kafkaesque position of not knowing the identity of its accusers or the nature of their claim,’ said David Dadge, editor for the International Press Institute.

Solidarity statements were quickly issued by several organisations including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Aidan White, general secretary for the IFJ, said: ‘The way this has been done smacks more of intimidation of legitimate journalistic inquiry than crime-busting.’ Tim Gopsill of the National Union of Journalists said: ‘If the security services of the UK or US can just walk in and take away a server, then there is no freedom of expression.’

Several days after the seizure the only clue as to what had happened came from a statement from FBI spokesperson Joe Parris (given to Agence France Presse) in which he said the seizure was ‘not an FBI operation’, but that the FBI had been acting on behalf of the Italian and Swiss authorities. Rackspace later issued a statement saying that a subpoena was issued ‘pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, which establishes procedures for countries to assist each other in investigations such as international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering’.

‘We have serious concerns about the use of such international cooperation frameworks to obscure legal process, undermine civil liberties and erode communication rights,’ said an Indymedia volunteer after almost one week of enquiries had failed to unearth any further information on the server seizures.

This is not the first time Indymedia has been targeted by US authorities. During the Republican National Convention in August, the Secret Service attempted to obtain private records from New York Indymedia’s Internet Service Provider; the ISP refused. The FBI attempted to obtain similar records from Indymedia servers during the massive protests against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in Quebec City but lost in the courts.

Finally as information began to surface, Swiss authorities said they had opened a criminal investigation into Indymedia’s reporting of the 2003 G8 Summit in Evian, while an Italian prosecutor investigating an anarchist group reportedly also requested assistance from the US to obtain information about posts on Indymedia, but apparently did not request the seizure of the servers. In Italy the Berlusconi government has waged a three-year campaign against independent and alternative media since the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa.

The servers were eventually returned to Rackspace on 13 October, but again the blackout continued with Indymedia unable to discover who had returned the servers.

Indymedia volunteers have been calling for supporters to sign a solidarity declaration at denouncing the hard-drive seizure as an unacceptable attack on press freedom, freedom of expression and privacy. They are demanding a full disclosure of the names of organisations and individuals involved in the seizure, a copy of the court order, and an independent investigation into any violations of due process. Numerous organisations have expressed their solidarity, and at the recent European Social Forum in London, the Assembly of the Social Movements fully supported the solidarity declaration.

‘I would say that this is an indication of the successfulness of the Indymedia network,’ said Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored. ‘Freedom of information is a radical idea when applied in a fair manner, and radical ideas will always be suppressed by the transnational corporate elites whenever possible.’

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