FBI Shutdown of Indymedia Threatens Free Speech
October 15, 2004
In a chilling attack on free speech, U.S. authorities on October 7
seized two internet servers in London belonging to the independent media
network Indymedia. More than 20 Indymedia sites around the world were
taken down as a result of the raid. The servers were returned on October
14, but no formal charges have been announced and no explanation has
been given for the raid.
FBI spokesperson Joe Parris told Agence France Presse that the raid was
"not an FBI operation" but that the FBI issued the subpoena on behalf of
Italy and Switzerland (10/8/04). U.S. authorities have refused to
Rackspace, the U.S.-based company that hosts the Indymedia servers at
its London offices, revealed in a press release that the subpoena was
issued "pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), which
establishes procedures for countries to assist each other in
investigations such as international terrorism, kidnapping and money
laundering." Rackspace told Indymedia that they could not reveal any
information about the subpoena—apparently the result of a gag order
Swiss authorities said they have opened an investigation into Indymedia
coverage of the 2003 G8 Summit in Evian and that they had asked the FBI
to help remove photos of Swiss undercover police from a French Indymedia
site (AFP, 10/9/04). The FBI visited both a Seattle-based Indymedia
lawyer and Rackspace about the photos, and Indymedia believed the issue
had been resolved (Indymedia, 10/9/04). The site was among those housed
on the seized servers; Swiss authorities, however, have not indicated
that they asked the FBI to seize the servers.
An Italian prosecutor investigating an anarchist group reportedly also
requested assistance from the U.S. to obtain information about posts on
Italian Indymedia, but she apparently also did not request the seizure
of the servers (italy.indymedia.org
, 10/14/04). While the details of the
subpoena remain undisclosed, the FBI's aggressive action against
Indymedia is troubling.
Indymedia, which provides grassroots reporting on social justice issues
and protests, is a decentralized network that allows anyone to post news
on its websites. If there is reason to suspect that participants on
these websites are involved with criminal activities, shutting down the
servers is rather like shutting down the phone system because people
have been using the telephone to plot crimes.
To silence over 20 media sites around the world with no charges and no
explanation strikes a severe blow against freedom of expression and
should trouble media outlets worldwide. European media have been
covering the story, but in this country, the media have been virtually
silent. Aside from two AP articles (10/8/04, 10/14/04), one by UPI
(10/11/04) and one in the Hartford Courant (10/13/04), FAIR found no
mainstream news outlets reporting on the Indymedia story.
This is not the first time Indymedia has been targeted by U.S.
authorities. During the Republican National Convention in August, the
Secret Service attempted to obtain private records from NYC Indymedia's
Internet Service Provider; the ISP refused. The FBI attempted to obtain
similar records from Indymedia servers during the massive protests
against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in Quebec City but lost
the legal battle (Indymedia, 8/31/04).
If there is credible evidence of actual crimes that involve Indymedia
websites, then an investigation that respects Indymedia's rights as a
media outlet may be warranted. But FBI action that intimidates or
silences media around the world under a shroud of secrecy is an
extraordinary and grave threat to free speech.
ACTION: Please sign the Indymedia solidarity declaration
) denouncing the hard drive seizure
and demanding a full disclosure of who is involved in the seizure, a
copy of the court order, and an independent investigation into any
violations of due process.
For more information and updates, see: http://www.indymedia.org
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