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 comment further.
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 (Indymedia, 10/7/04).
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: www.indymedia.org