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Indymedia servers returned after FBI helped shut down media group

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    News Media Update         UNITED KINGDOM         Newsgathering    

Indymedia servers returned after FBI helped shut down media group

  • Two U.S.-owned Web servers in England supporting a worldwide alternative media network were seized Oct. 7 under FBI guidance and returned without explanation last week.

Oct. 18, 2004 — The Federal Bureau of Investigation, operating under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, helped Swiss officials shut down about 20 Web sites hosted on two web servers that were part of an alternative media network known as Indymedia, the BBC reported Oct. 11.

The servers were returned Tuesday, but their online use will be delayed until the Electronic Frontier Foundation ensures they are secure, according to an EFF press release. The EFF also said it intends to take legal action to find out what happened to the servers and to ensure the Internet media are protected from similar First Amendment violations in the future.

The Indymedia seizure resembles a 1990 raid of a software company, the press release said. In that case, the Secret Service seized the hardware and software of Steve Jackson Games, a computer game publisher based in Austin, Texas. The seizure shut down an Internet bulletin board and e-mail server and disrupted the publisher’s business, and was found to be an illegal violation of the publisher’s rights, according to the press release.

FBI officials did not conduct the actual raid of the Uxbridge, England, office, Bill Carter, an FBI spokesman in Washington, said in an interview.

“We did provide technical expertise and assistance to the Swiss government,” he said. “It is a Swiss case.”

The Guardian reported that the FBI, speaking to Agence France-Press, acknowledged a subpoena had been issued at the request of Italian and Swiss authorities.

The computer servers under investigation are run by Rackspace, a San Antonio-based Web hosting provider with offices in the United Kingdom. Web sites in 17 countries were affected by the two missing servers, according to the Guardian .

“We’re under court order not to speak about it,” said Annalie Drusch of Rackspace’s media inquiries division. “[The order] came from the U.S., but through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. Another country came to the U.S. for help.”

Agreements with 19 countries under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty allow the United States to work in tandem with those countries to summon witnesses, compel documents and other real evidence and to issue search warrants, according to Findlaw. In addition to the United Kindgom and UK’s territory Cayman Islands, the other countries in the treaty are Argentina, Bahamas, Canada, Hungary, Italy, Jamaica, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Panama, Philippines, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay.

The BBC reported that Rackspace said it received a court order from the U.S. authorities Thursday to hand over the computer equipment at its UK hosting facility.

“Rackspace is acting as a good corporate citizen and is cooperating with international law enforcement authorities,” according to a company statement included in BBC reports.

The same statement pointed out that Indymedia had been asked last month by the FBI to remove a story about Swiss undercover police from one of the Web sites hosted at Rackspace, according to the BBC.

“It is not known, however, whether Thursday’s order is related to that incident since the order was issued to Rackspace and not to Indymedia,” the statement said.


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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