“Five Days after the seizures there is still an almost total information blackout from the authorities in the UK, US, Switzeland and Italy. Indymedia still has no confirmation of who ordered the seizures, who took the servers in London, why the seizures took place, where the servers are now located, and whether they will be returned.” – Indymedia UK.
Last week internet servers in the UK hosting 21 Indymedia (IMC) sites were seized by the FBI, following a request by Swiss and Italian authorities. Hang on a minute, the Swiss and Italians ask the Americans to seize computers based in the UK? What’s going on?
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) which formalises cross border policing between the UK and USA. Here the Attorney General in the US makes a request to the UK Home Secretary who either grants it or refuses it if the request is “an offence of a political character.” Statewatch editor Tony Bunyan called on David Blunkett to explain himself: “Why did the Home Office agree? What grounds did the USA give for the seizure of the servers? Were these grounds of a ‘political’ nature?”
The FBI said that they are acting on behalf of requests by the Swiss and Italian authorities. Indymedia have been unable to get any more information as to what the exact reasons are, but this is a continuation of attacks on independent media by the US Government. In August the Secret Service tried to get records of internet addresses from an internet service provider in the US and the Netherlands before the Republican Party convention. Last month the Federal Communications Commission shut down community radio stations around the US. Two weeks ago the FBI requested that Indymedia remove a post on Nantes Indymedia with a photo of Swiss undercover police, while IMC volunteers in Seattle were visited by the FBI on the same issue.
French Nantes Indymedia, one of those affected by the raid, had pictures of the undercover cops at the 2003 Evian G8 summit on their site, and the Prosecutor in Geneva is investigating this. You can see the the incriminating photos at: www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/mtoups/nantes/copsinnantes.htm
The Italian state has had a campaign of harassment of alternative media since the G8 summit in Genoa. Last year the far right Aleanza Nazionale, who are in the Italian coalition government, called for the closure of Indymedia, and Paolo Valentino, the state secretary in the department of justice, also announced possible cooperation with the USA.
The federal prosecutor of Bologna Marina Plazzi said she is investigating Indymedia because of possible “support of terrorism” and has asked the FBI for assistance. Apparently this is about people on the newswire praising an attack on Italian soldiers in the Iraq last November.
Why didn’t the Swiss and Italian authorities approach the British police directly, instead of the FBI being involved? Indymedia commented: “We are concerned over the growing use of international co-operation frameworks by Governments and Law enforcement agencies which can be used to obscure clear legal process, and call for openness and clarity in international co-operation, to ensure due process and that civil liberties are protected.”
Protect and Server
The effect of the raids has been to shut down 21 (mostly European) Indymedia sites, six, including Indymedia UK, are now back on line. Indymedia UK had multiple back-ups of its files as they are all “paranoid” according to one Indymedia volunteer – and such paranoia has actually been justified as many other sites without backup have lost lots of data. There is a gaping hole on the internet where about one million Indymedia news articles, comments, photos, audio reports, and videos used to be.
The FBI has stolen an irreplaceable piece of our collective history. They’ve also made a direct attack on an important component of the movement against global capitalism, a part that carries messages around the globe without the corporate media telling us what to think.
Indymedia is working hard to restore sites, but about ten remain down. At least four – Uruguay, Italy, Western Massachusetts and Nantes – have lost data. “This FBI operation gives us even more reason to continue with what we have been doing,” says an activist from Italy Indymedia. “The interruption of Uruguay Indymedia comes at a bad time with the elections coming up,” Libertinus, an Indymedia volunteer says “Uruguay has a long history of media repression. We don’t have the money to pay for web hosting, so we rely on the solidarity of other countries. Actions like this make the whole world insecure for free media.”
Indymedia has called for solidarity actions and has received many statements of support. Aidan White, General Secretary for the International Federation of Journalists said “The way this has been done smacks more of intimidation of legitimate journalistic inquiry than crime-busting.” Tim Gopsill of the National Union of Journalists 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.”
Indymedia is consulting the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on how to prevent further government attacks on free speech. “EFF is deeply concerned about the grave implications of this seizure for free speech and privacy, and we are exploring all avenues to hold the government accountable for this improper and unconstitutional silencing of independent media.” said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl.
It’s ironic that the seizure of the servers comes just before the Communication Rights and Tactical Media Production conference – of which Indymedia is a part of (see www.efcr2004.net). As the conference blurb says “As Governments and corporations increasingly base their authority on the ownership and control of information – a closer look reveals these areas as the landscape in which crucial struggles are being played out. ‘Communication Rights’ is at the heart of these struggles.” The attacks by the US, UK, Italian and Swiss governments on Indymedia are a direct attack on these Communication Rights.
The servers have now been returned – but Indymedia still don’t know who took them in the first place and what action to take in the face of these illegal seizures!
For updates about this, as well as the ESF see www.indymedia.org.uk