Monday October 11, 2004
American authorities have shut down 20 independent media centres by seizing their British-based webservers.
On Thursday a court order was issued to Rackspace, an American-owned web hosting company in Uxbridge, Middlesex, forcing it to hand over two servers used by Indymedia, an international media network which covers of social justice issues and provides a "news-wire", to which its users contribute.
The websites affected by the seizure span 17 countries.
It is unclear why, or to where, the servers have been taken. The FBI, speaking to the French AFP, acknowledged that a subpoena had been issued but said this was at the request of Italian and Swiss authorities.
"It is not an FBI operation," said its spokesman, Joe Parris.
Rackspace told Indymedia that it had been served with a court order under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, under which countries assist each other in investigations such as international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering
It is unclear why such a treaty would apply in this context. A UK Indymedia journalist said: "The authorities may just be using this as a trawling exercise. We don't know."
It is also unclear if the Home Office was involved.
The Metropolitan police said it was not aware of the move.
The UK Indymedia site is now working, because it was backed up on another server, unlike others which are still shut down.
One of the servers was to be used to stream web radio coverage of the European Social Forum conference in London next week.
Aidan White, the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, condemned the "intolerable and intrusive" action .
Tim Gopsill of the NUJ said: "If the security services of the UK or US can just walk in and take away a server, then there is no freedom of expression."
Monday, 11 October, 2004, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
US seizes independent media sites
The FBI has shut down some 20 sites which were part of an alternative media network known as Indymedia.
A US court order forced the firm hosting the material to hand over two servers in the UK used by the group.
Indymedia says it is a news source for the anti-globalisation movement and other social justice issues.
The reasons behind the seizure are unclear but the FBI has reportedly said the action was taken at the request of Italian and Swiss authorities.
The servers affected were run by Rackspace, a US web hosting company with offices in London.
It said it had received a court order from the US authorities last Thursday to hand over the computer equipment at its UK hosting facility.
(The way this has been done smacks more of intimidation of legitimate journalistic inquiry than crime-busting- Aidan White, International Federation of Journalists)
"Rackspace is acting as a good corporate citizen and is cooperating with international law enforcement authorities," said a statement by the company.
It said it was responding to an order issued under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. Under the agreement, countries assist each other in investigations such as international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering
The reasons behind the action against the Indymedia websites are unclear.
The group said the servers affected had hosted the sites of more then 20 local collectives and audio streams for several radio stations, as well as several other projects.
"Indymedia had been asked last month by the FBI to remove a story about Swiss undercover police from one of the websites hosted at Rackspace," said the group in a statement.
"It is not known, however, whether Thursday's order is related to that incident since the order was issued to Rackspace and not to Indymedia."
'Intolerable and intrusive'
A FBI spokesperson told the AFP news agency that it was not an FBI operation, saying the order had been issued at the request of Italian and Swiss authorities.
The seizure has sparked off protests from journalist groups.
"We have witnessed an intolerable and intrusive international police operation against a network specialising in independent journalism," said Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists.
"The way this has been done smacks more of intimidation of legitimate journalistic inquiry than crime-busting."
The UK site of Indymedia is back up and running but several of the other 20 sites affected are still offline.
In the US, the civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said it was working with Indymedia over how to react to the seizures.
"The constitution does not permit the government unilaterally to cut off the speech of an independent media outlet, especially without providing a reason or even allowing Indymedia the information necessary to contest the seizure," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl.
Front cover story from today's Morning Star:
Website seizure sparks outrage
(Monday 11 October 2004)
LEFT MP Jeremy Corbyn pledged to raise questions in Parliament over an "outrageous" attack on free speech yesterday after Home Office officials seized web servers belonging to independent news network Indymedia.
Acting on a request from the FBI, Home Office flunkies took away the servers, refusing to tell the collective the reason for such draconian measures or where the equipment had gone.
Indymedia - a worldwide network of websites dedicated to reporting stories that are free from corporate influence - said that more than a dozen international news sites had gone down when the server was taken off-line.
A spokeswoman for the organisation condemned the authorities for failing to offer up an explanation for their actions, calling it a "serious threat to freedom of speech worldwide."
"Indymedia insists that the servers be returned," she said.
The network was born as the international movement against capitalism flourished five years ago, as a reaction against the increased homogeneity and corporate control of the media.
The web-based service specialises in the news which mainstream outlets refuse to report, including the real effects of the bloody war in Iraq.
But it could be this that has brought the attention of the authorities, despite FBI assertions that it was acting on behalf of a third country.
Mr Corbyn stressed that the seizure was "part of an extremely disturbing trend towards excessive control of the dissemination of knowledge" by those in power.
He condemned the attack as "outrageous" and vowed to confront ministers in Parliament this week, over the role that Britain took in the raid.
Stop the War Coalition spokesman Andrew Burgin called the confiscation "part of the international campaign to destroy democratic rights and civil liberties."
Raiding a voluntary news service "shows the increasingly dictatorial nature of US and British society," he noted.
Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom national organiser Barry White said that, despite the massive power and control of the corporate media in the US, the authorities are still very sensitive to the power of alternative voices - including community radio stations and independent media centres.
Indymedia had been targeted as part of US efforts to "keep up the pressure on dissenting voices," he argued.
"This is another example of the Big Brother state encroaching on our civil liberties," added Mr White.
Campaigners have questioned the legality of the seizure, arguing that the US cannot act as it pleases on British soil. The company that ran the servers is a British subsidiary of a US company and thus is subject to British, not US law.
The responsibility for the seizure would therefore rest with British Home Secretary David Blunkettt.
But Mr White revealed that one little-known clause in the US Patriot Act - a key plank in the US "war on terror" - gives US officials free rein to seize equipment outside their borders if they can claim that it poses a threat to national security