Feeds

Feds seize Indymedia servers

Dissent-busting dragnet

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The next step in data security

The FBI yesterday seized a pair of UK servers used by Indymedia, the independent newsgathering collective, after serving a subpoena in the US on Indymedia's hosting firm, Rackspace. Why or how remains unclear.

Rackspace UK complied with a legal order and handed over hard disks without first notifying Indymedia. It's unclear if the raid was executed under extra-territorial provisions of US legislation or the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). Provisions of RIPA make it a criminal offence to discuss warrants, so Rackspace would not be able to discuss the action with its customer Indymedia, or with the media.

Rackspace US has issued a statement which says that the investigation "did not arise in the United States", but which sheds very little light on the whys and the wherefores.

In the present matter regarding Indymedia, Rackspace Managed Hosting, a US based company with offices in London, is acting in compliance with a court order pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), which establishes procedures for countries to assist each other in investigations such as international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering. Rackspace responded to a Commissioner’s subpoena, duly issued under Title 28, United States Code, Section 1782 in an investigation that did not arise in the United States. Rackspace is acting as a good corporate citizen and is cooperating with international law enforcement authorities. The court prohibits Rackspace from commenting further on this matter."

Dai Davis, an IT lawyer at London law firm Nabarro Nathanson, said Rackspace's statement fails to clarify the legal basis of the raid. "If it was a RIPA warrant, Rackspace can't refer to it. Most RIPA warrants can be issued by the Home Secretary," he said. "The FBI has no jurisdiction in the UK and would need to act in concert with UK authorities, such as the security services or police," he added.

Net effect

The seizure of Indymedia's servers affects more than 20 Indymedia sites worldwide. The list of affected local media collectives includes Uruguay, Andorra, Poland, Nice, several French groups, Euskal Herria (Basque Country), multiple Belgian sites, Serbia, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Italy, Brazil, the UK, part of the Germany site, and the global Indymedia Radio site. One of the servers taken down at Rackspace provided streaming radio to several radio stations and served files related to the Blag Linux distribution, among other purposes.

While Indymedia is not exactly sure what prompted the action, the group does have one strong idea. A French Indymedia site last month posted photos of what it believed to be undercover Swiss police officers photographing protesters at a French event. Indymedia received a request from the FBI to pull those photos down, as they "revealed personal information" about the undercover police, said Indymedia press officer Hep Sano.

Rackspace appeared to confirm that the photos were an issue with the FBI.

"I apologize for the delay in responding. I have been trying to get a hold of the FBI agent I spoke with before, but haven't been able to at this time," wrote a Rackspace official to Indymedia earlier this week, according to Sano. "As the request originated with the Swiss police, I can only speculate on what they saw or what they were concerned about. However, at this time, I have received no further communications from either the FBI or the Swiss authorities, so I feel like we can close this this issue."

Still, Indymedia has never sorted out the matter with the FBI.

"They never clarified what they meant by personal information," she said. "The photos were taken on a public street."

Indymedia believes the photos were eventually pulled, but ironically cannot check on this as it no longer has access to the servers or hard disks. The group has not been notified if the FBI is even involved in this seizure or whether or not the servers or just hard disks were confiscated.

"We are still trying to work with the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) to figure out who is charging us and with what crime," said Sano. The EFF did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Reports are now circulating that government agencies in Italy and Switzerland prompted the action against Indymedia.

Indymedia said yesterday's raids were part of a wider pattern of "attacks" against independent media outlets by the US Federal Government authorities over recent months. Last month the Federal Communications Commission shut down community radio stations around the US.

In addition, an article submitted through Indymedia's Open Newswire service identifying the names of delegates to the Republican Convention and where they were staying in New York reportedly led to an investigation by the FBI. The Secret Service used a subpoena in an "attempt to disrupt" the New York City's Independent Media Centre before last month's Republican National Convention in the city. Speculation (on Slashdot) links yesterday's raids with this investigation. Indymedia, however, now clearly believes that the motivation for the server seizure originated outside of the US.

"We have witnessed an intolerable and intrusive international police operation against a network specialising in independent journalism," said Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists. "The way this has been done smacks more of intimidation of legitimate journalistic inquiry than crime-busting."

Indymedia (AKA Independent Media Center) was set up in 1999 to provide grassroots coverage of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) protests in Seattle. It has continued to report on controversial subjects often under-reported in the mainstream media since then; but this week has marked the most controversial chapter in its operations. ®

Related stories

Indymedia.nl loses anarchist hyperlinks case
Activists slam Cyveillance May Day Bomber claims
Click here for the real news

External links

Indymedia’s statement on the raids.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Murdoch to Europe: Inflict MORE PAIN on Google, please
'Platform for piracy' must be punished, or it'll kill us in FIVE YEARS
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
Bono: Apple will sort out monetising music where the labels failed
Remastered so hard it would be difficult or impossible to master it again
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.