Mystery still surrounds an incident early last month that aimed directly at the First Amendment and a free press, even though it took place in Britain.
First reports said the FBI seized two servers used by Indymedia, an alternative, independent news organization on the Internet. Hard drives from the two servers were taken, kept for a time, and then returned. There was never any explanation of who was seizing the servers or why or why they were returned.
The seizure happened suddenly on Oct. 7, and the software was brought back on Oct. 13. The handover took place, reportedly, when FBI agents presented a court order to representatives of Rackspace, a Texas company that provides Web hosting services.
This investigation is said to have originated in Italy in Bologna, where authorities asked the U.S. for information about postings on Indymedia Italy, one of about 20 Indymedia sites carried on the London-based servers. The U.S. then issued an order to seize the hard drives.
Marina Plazzi, a public prosecutor in Bologna, who is investigating the Informal Anarchist Federation, reportedly made the request to American authorities because Rackspace is an American company. An early report from Agence France Presse said both Italian and Swiss authorities had requested U.S. action.
Beyond this point, the fog becomes dense. First off, the British say they had nothing to do with the whole thing. The FBI says it did not seize any property from Rackspace, and the Swiss say they didnt ask them to do so.
British Home Office minister Caroline Flint said: I can confirm that no U.K. law enforcement agencies were involved in the matter. In the circumstances, I do not therefore believe that it is necessary for me to make a statement.
John Lettice, writing in The Register, a British newspaper, commented dryly: The Home Offices apparent lack of interest in court orders from non-U.K. jurisdictions being enforced on U.K. soil without the involvement of U.K. law enforcement agencies would, however, seem a fertile area for further questions.
The U.S. order apparently was issued under terms of the U.S.-Italy Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. It is a mechanism by which orders issued by one treaty signatory can be enforced in the territory of another treaty signatory. (bcllciao.org)
David Dadge, editor of the International Press Institute, observed: The fact that the authorities actions are shrouded in mystery leaves Indymedia in the Kafkaesque position of not knowing the identity of its accusers or the nature of their claim. (indymedia.org)
Indymedia volunteers are calling for full disclosure of the names of groups or individuals involved in the seizure, a copy of the court order, and an independent investigation into any violations of due process, according to Indymedia.
Seizure of the hard drives shut down an Indymedia radio station and nearly 20 Web sites serving countries and cities such as: Uruguay, Poland, Marseille, France, Belgrade, Prague, Brazil, U.K., and parts of Germany, as well as western Massachusetts in the U.S.
An Indymedia volunteer said: We have serious concerns about the use of international cooperation frameworks to obscure legal process, undermine civil liberties, and erode communications rights.
The incident has drawn protests from people worldwide who have joined the International Labor Communications Association in a declaration of support for Indymedia and opposition to the seizing of the servers.
The declaration condemns the action as a violation of communication rights and cites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: Everyone has the right to the freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. (ilcaonline.org)
The declaration demands that those responsible for the seizure be held accountable. It also says all copies of the confiscated data should either be destroyed or returned to Indymedia.
Just to cap everything off, Indymedia says the Anarchist Federation has never posted anything on its network.