Last Thursday the FBI seized the hard disks from the web server that runs Sheffield IMC. This is likely to have been given the go ahead from Sheffield Brightside MP and Home Secretary, David Blunkett. Seven days on and neither the FBI, the Government nor the police have offered any explanation to Indymedia as to why their servers were seized. The Sheffield MP Richard Allan is planning to ask a question about this in the House of Commons on Friday, more info on his blog.
The seizure of the server has affected around 20 IMC sites around the world, including Uruguay, Andorra, Poland, Western Massachusetts, Nantes, Marseille, Belgrade, Portugal, Prague, Italy, Brazil, UK, and the global Indymedia Radio site.
Sheffield Indymedia's presence on the web was quickly reinstated due to there being backup servers, but all the other IMC sites were not so fortunate. It has taken a huge amount of work to get things in the UK running again, and the knock on effects of the server being seized are likely to be felt for a while yet. We hope that users of the Sheffield site will bear with us through this time.
fbi seizes imc servers
The seized web server, owned by Rackspace and rented by Indymedia was based in London. It is believed that it was seized by the FBI under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, through which countries assist each other in investigations such as international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering. The web server was finally returned to Rackspace yesterday, but yet still no explanation has been given as to why it was taken.
As you would expect, the Sheffield Indymedia collective is outraged over actions of the FBI, which have most likley been sanctioned by the British Government. The seizure of the Indymedia servers in London raises serious constitutional questions as well as important questions over the legitimacy of domestic and foreign powers to shut down media outlets while shrouding the operation in a veil of secrecy.
This case is bigger than Indymedia, it is a concern for us all. If the FBI, with the collusion of Government, can come in and seize a media network\222s websever, what does this mean not only for the freedom of the media in the UK, but for our right to freedom of expression? The Electronic Frontier Foundation, The International Federation of Journalists, the National Union of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters and many other organisations have condemed the action taken against Indymedia.
- The Guardian reports condemnataion by IFJ and NUJ
- David Blunkett criticised by Reporters Without Borders
- South African organisation point to abuse of human rights
The Sheffield Indymedia Collective are also demanding from the Government answers to more specific questions:
- Why was the property seized?
- Who in the UK was responsible for the authorisation?
- Who in other countries was responsible for both requesting and authorising this?
- Who were the hard disks handed over to: the FBI or other US officials?
- Were UK police officers present? If yes, from which units?
- Has the Home Office, David Blunkett, the Mutual Legal Assistance Unit at the Home Office, or a Judge examined the seizure to decide if it was proportionate?
- Have they looked to see if the request could have been fulfilled in any other way, as they are allowed to do under the MLAT?
- If UK authorities were not involved hasn't there been a breach of the Data Protection Act with Rackspace hading the hard disks over to the FBI to copy them?
What comment do the UK authorities have over the seizure of journalistic materials which come under specific clauses of the MLAT and may be excluded?
Rest assured that when we have any answers to these questions we'll let you know!