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Online media group withstands federal investigation

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         WASHINGTON         Confidentiality/Privilege         Jun 19, 2001    

Online media group withstands federal investigation

  • Prosecutors in Seattle obtained a court order to review the computer logs of Web-based social activists.

An online journalists’ collective based in Seattle claimed victory in mid-June after federal prosecutors backed off from their demands for the group’s computer server logs.

Jason Reep, a volunteer for the Seattle Independent Media Center, said the collective, which offers an open-publishing system on its Web site, resisted the order and had attorneys preparing a motion to quash it.

The open-publishing news wire hosted by the IMC allows anyone with an Internet connection to publish articles.

“I believe that the government is refusing to acknowledge IMC is a member of the news media and is claiming instead that it is a Web bulletin board,” said Nancy Chang, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights and who represents the IMC.

On April 21, FBI agents went to the Seattle office of IMC armed with a court order and requested their server logs from April 20 and 21. The two people in the office did not comply with the court order, which did not indicate a deadline for when the information had to be turned over.

“The order was troubling in a number of aspects,” Chang said. She said that the order was overbroad and that it infringed on free speech and political association.

The FBI wanted to gain access to IMC Web logs to search for the source that posted sensitive documents allegedly stolen from a police car in Quebec City, Quebec, during free trade protests in April.

Lawrence Lincoln, press spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle, said that the order was withdrawn when the suspects were apprehended. He said that the Canadian government had invoked the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to obtain assistance from U.S. law enforcement.

“Basically, it provides for reciprocal assistance on legal matters between governments,” Lincoln said of the treaty.

Chang said there was no violation of U.S. law and the Canadian violation was for theft and mischief. None of the Seattle IMC volunteers were charged.

Reep said that the documents were posted to the Global and Montreal IMC Web sites, not the Seattle Web site. He said that it is likely that the government wanted to search the Seattle IMC because the address for the domain name of the IMC is the Seattle office space.

The mission statement of the IMC states that it is a “grassroots organization committed to using media production and distribution as tools promoting social and economic justice.”

(In re Order concerning Indymedia; Media Counsel: David Berman, Perkins Coie, Seattle; Lee Tien, Electronic Frontier Foundation, San Francisco; Nancy Chang, Center for Constitutional Rights, New York) AP

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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