Indymedia: the tale of the servers 'nobody' seized
Home Office now also in denial
We'll lay off the black helicopters for the moment and strike out for some dry land. Caroline Flint's answer says no UK law enforcement agency was involved, which leaves us with the question of who the persons unknown were, where they were, what status they had, and where the servers went for their week's vacation. The Register has asked the Home Office for a clearer idea of the agencies it considers as being covered by the term "law enforcement", and if we're right in presuming that the Mutual Legal Assistance unit is included. If this turns out to be the case, then there was definitely no request for assistance from either Italy or the US to the UK.
Maybe. As the UK-US MLAT includes a confidentiality clause (these are factory-fitted), the Home Office might not be able to admit it. But if such a secret request existed, UK law enforcement would probably have been involved, accompanying the persons unknown, or acting for them.
So about these persons. You could see how (technically - skip jurisdiction for now, it's maybe the fashion anyway) whatever was wanted could be taken off a server in the UK by persons in the US. But this didn't happen, and for some unspecified reason it was also not possible to take it more locally, so the servers were handed over/removed instead. This handover of physical objects appears to have taken place in some kind of jurisdiction twilight. The FBI has no jurisdiction in the UK, the FBI says it was not involved in the seizure, no UK law enforcement agencies were involved.
Rackspace meanwhile says it can't comment further because "the court prohibits" this. This would likely be under the terms of the US-Italy MLAT, and the confidentiality clause would also be reason for the sealing of the court order itself.
So nobody took them? Some kind of burglary, was it? Although Indymedia has been coming under massive pressure from the authorities in Italy, its sources there seem to be unearthing some fairly convincing stuff concerning the Italian end of the business. This attributes the original order as having been made by Judge Marina Plazzi in Bologna, who is investigating FAI activities, and comes up with a nugget regarding the servers themselves.
According to one post from Italy: "Marina Plazzi, the judge in charge of investigations upon FAI (Informal Anarchist Federation) and 'bomb-threats' delivered to the President of the EU Commission Romano Prodi, was ordered to acquire information about posts published on italy.indymedia.org. The FBI took 'extreme' action in seizing the logs, going beyond the court order. As the prosecutor did not not validate the seizure the hardware was returned to Rackspace."
For reasons we've covered already it's unlikely that the FBI was taking the extreme action in Heathrow, but the indication that there was an Italian legal problem over the 'collar the lot' approach to the seizure sounds plausible. And the seizure of privileged material would also be a problem under Italian and EU law, so here we have the possibility of a second cockup to add to the one we prepared earlier. Were the servers in the hands of Italian authorities when the cockup was discovered? And if not, whose hands were they in, and would that be US or Italian jurisdiction? And actually who was it who pulled the plugs (if they were really pulled)?
Maybe as the judge says whoever executed the order overdid it, but maybe whoever filled in the request form (hello judge? Or somebody higher up?) didn't provide a full and accurate description of the evidence sought, and it was the requested authority (i.e., the US) that blew the whistle when it became clear what was there.
Whatever, it should by now surely have come to the attention of the Home Office that it all looks very like somebody else's laws have been playing all over its jurisdiction without it knowing anything about it. If the Home Office doesn't know what's been going on, then it should really start finding out, shouldn't it? ®