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Indymedia Servers Seized in Britain Shutting Down 20 Websites

StoryOctober 18, 2004
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In the latest crackdown on the Indymedia network, the FBI with Spanish and Swiss officials oversaw the confiscation of the servers. Indymedia’s Internet provider is under a gag order not to talk about what happened. [includes rush transcript]

Earlier this month, two United Kingdom-based Internet servers containing data for more than 20 local Independent Media Center websites were seized A week later, the webservers were returned to Indymedia and their hosting company, Rackspace Managed Hosting.

It is still unclear who actually took the servers, the reasons for the seizure, or the legal authority under which they were impounded. Citing a gag order, Rackspace would not comment on what had happened both in the original seizure of the servers or their return.

What is known at this point is that the subpoena that resulted in the seizure was issued at the request of a foreign government. Although initial reports suggested that the FBI had taken the servers, the FBI has now denied any involvement.

Indymedia and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are planning legal action to find out what really happened to Indymedia”s servers.

The seizure has come under heavy criticism from civil liberties and press freedom groups. Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, called it “an intolerable and intrusive international police operation against a network specializing in independent journalism … [that] smacks more of intimidation of legitimate journalistic inquiry than crime-busting.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Devin Theriot-Orr, who is a lawyer and member of the Seattle Indymedia Center working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the seizure. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Devin.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

DEVIN THERIOT-ORR: There’s background noise on my line. I’m having trouble hearing you.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could just listen very carefully. Sorry about that. Can you explain what’s understood at this point? First we hear that the F.B.I.'s involved. We even see Agence France-Presse quoting an F.B.I. spokesperson saying they were involved in the seizure. Then they deny it, French, Italian governments. What's going on here?

DEVIN THERIOT-ORR: Well, we are still trying to determine exactly what’s going on. What we have been able to determine so far is that the subpoena was issued under U.S. law, most likely in the district of San Antonio where Rackspace’s U.S. offices are stationed. So, we suspect that in fact it was either the Department of Justice or the F.B.I. that served the subpoena, but their involvement — that may have been the extent of the U.S. government’s involvement in this action. Again, we’re trying to get all of the facts, and since we have not yet received a copy of the subpoena, because it was filed under seal, it’s somewhat difficult to determine exactly what happened here.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, have you had contact with federal authorities like the F.B.I.?

DEVIN THERIOT-ORR: Yes. On October 1, two F.B.I. agents visited my office in Seattle, Washington, where they were concerned — they said that they were visiting me on behalf of the Swiss government as a courtesy visit on behalf of the Swiss government, that in regards to a post on the Nantes independent media site of two — allegedly of two undercover F.B.I. agents, or not F.B.I. agents, excuse me, of Swiss police officers who were — the photos were taken during the G8 summit and posted to the Swiss IMC site and then reposted to the Nantes site. And they said that they were concerned because there was personally identifying information on the website and that there was some kind of a threat on this post. After they left, I looked up the post in question and we had actually received an email from our ISP, Rackspace, a week earlier, around September 22, saying that the F.B.I. had filed a request to them to have this photo removed. So, we were aware of this incident, and Nantes had taken the proactive step, even though under U.S. law, I think, it’s very arguable that posting both the photos and even address information would be protected under the First Amendment. Just to be overly cautious, the Nantes site went ahead and masked the faces of these allegedly undercover police officers, and at no time have we been able to discover any kind of personal identifying information that was actually on the post. So, that has not been factually supported at any time. But just so — on September 22, they masked the faces of these people just to be extra cautious and even wrote back to the ISP and said, you know, look, we have done this, is this okay? We want to make sure that everything is okay. And then, you know, lo and behold, October 1, the F.B.I. comes knocking on my door and says, we want — we are concerned about this personally identifying information. I go to the site and not only is there again no personally identifying information, but the photos have actually been masked at that point. So, initially, when the servers were taken down October 7, we initially thought that it was a result of a Swiss investigation because of the proximity in time to the F.B.I. calls on my office and the F.B.I. email to Rackspace. As it turns out, that may not be the case. The Swiss government does say they’re investigating the post, but the prosecutor there has said they are not — that they did not issue a request. They have said that to an attorney who’s working with us in Switzerland. And then recently, we have learned that it may be — I mean this is all still, you know, without seeing a copy of the company it’s hard to — it’s all based on conjecture somewhat, but we believe that the Italian government may be involved, but we’re still working on confirming the details of their involvement and trying to get to the bottom of exactly what happened here?

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with Devin Theriot-Orr, who is a lawyer and member of the Seattle Indymedia Center. So, the two servers that were confiscated from Rackspace in Britain have been returned?

DEVIN THERIOT-ORR: That’s right. The servers were returned last week. We’re again not — that doesn’t, you know, solve any of the issues here, because, you know, the analogy that I think most aptly describes what happened here would be if the Swiss government was investigating a story in The Washington Post, and instead of contacting, you know, The Washington Post and asking them about the story, they get a subpoena and go to the people that published The Washington Post and seize their — all of the presses in the publishing house, and take all of their back issues and then take it away without any kind of explanation or, you know, any kind of authority essentially for the action, and then just, you know, return it a week later without any explanation, and say, “Okay, there; everything is fine now.” So, you know, the fact that the hard drives have been returned is really a minor point for us. We’re glad to have them back, so that we can get our sites back up and running, but the point here is that it’s a blatant violation of the First Amendment. We believe that the U.S. government cannot aid and abet in the violation of the First Amendment even if the F.B.I. was not directly involved in — even if they didn’t have possession of the hard drives at any point, the point here is that they — that U.S. courts were acting in direct violation of the First Amendment both in the sense that they were — we don’t know exactly what information they were seeking, but in the past the types of stuff that they have sought has been server logs. We have been involved with subpoenas being served on us in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: Devin, we only have a few seconds. But during the Republican Convention, the New York IMC, Indymedia Center, was served with a subpoena for posting the names and places where republican delegates were staying, not that that wasn’t public information. What’s the latest on that?

DEVIN THERIOT-ORR: Um, well, you know, I’m not a member of the New York Indymedia Center, so I’m just speaking as a member of the Seattle center, so I don’t know if I can quite update you on what’s going on there. I know they’re still looking into it, and you know, that we consider that information to be also protected. I think that this is a pattern of harassment by federal authorities.

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, I want to thank you for being with us. Devin Theriot-Orr, lawyer, member of the Seattle Indymedia Center.

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