Will the FBI put pressure on Indymedia Nantes?
Nantes, 29 September 2004, 12:01
A little like a Hollywood film or the X-Files TV series, the Indymedia Nantes collective has trouble with . . . the FBI. This makes you laugh? To tell the truth, it makes us laugh, finally not for a long time, it doesn't seem to be bullshit. This story permits us to understand how a simple contribution posted on the Internet permitted the authorities to resort to censorship and to understand the dangers of the laws that humiliate our elementary liberties, such as the LEN [Loi Economie Numerique] or the Patriot Act. In the following text, you will find all the details of this story, as well as the problems that it raises.
Short reminder of the facts (in trying to be clear and concise)
On 8 September  we received a contribution entitled "Photos of 2 cops of the anti-G8 cell." At the time, one had already posed the question of the interest of such a contribution, but, seeing that this wasn't beyond fundamental principles, it was valid. Meanwhile, this contribution questioned us. If it is real, doesn't it involve the same practices of the police? If the author of the contribution deceives him or herself, who are the people depicted? This contribution provoked a debate at the heart of the collective, but meanwhile remained on the site. It was a question of taking into account the hyper-repressive context in Switzerland since the G8, where a certain number of liberties are humiliated and police Internet sites overflow with photos of activists with appeals to becoming a paid informant, and where prison sentences come easily, not to mention the practices in which the police disguise themselves as rioters. Thus, we decided to leave the contribution as it was.
And thus began an international police imbroglio. . . .
On 22 September , by mail (in English), we learned that, according to Rackspace (the Great Britain-based providers of Internet access for the machine that hosted Indymedia Nantes), no less than the FBI had demanded that the contribution in question be taken down. This provider is Anglo-American, which somewhat explains the demand. Nevertheless, we were surprised that the FBI, an American agency, made its demand to an English ISP [Internet service provider], that a French Internet site should take down a contribution concerning the Swiss police. Without doubt, this is globalization! Thus, the provider sent us a letter demanding that we immediately take down this article.
This posed many questions:
-- Was this all a joke? Until then, we weren't certain, though it seemed plausible. We awaited the response to our letter (in English) from Rackspace.
-- What to do? First of all, we decided to provisionally hide the article on the 24th [of September], and, in addition, to mask the faces of these individuals out of respect for their "private lives." Moreover, we couldn't permit ourselves to stand up to the ISP, because, if it closed down the connection, dozens of Indymedia sites would find themselves arbitrarily closed down.
-- We have no sign that any kind of judicial action has been started. This poses the question of the privatization of justice, which thus gives a censorship role to private firms. This is the reign of the arbitrary, where we can neither defend nor speak for ourselves. As a result, we must accede to these demands.
-- This strikes us as strange, but it also refers us to the control of the Internet by both police and private authorities.
In France, it is the LEN that renders the ISPs directly responsible for the content of the sites that they host, and that makes them play a preventive role. If they do not, they can be convicted. The demands to provide logs of IP addresses can be made without judicial decisions . . . etc . . . . Note this article from Paris [translator: no link provided in re-posted version], which has also been confronted by police pressures.
PS: the archives of the discussion list of the Nantes Indymedia collective are publically consultable and you can find all of our exchanges on the subject of this Abracadabra-esque story (this is what we call amongst otherselves "radical transparency").