FBI seizure to threaten anonymity and freedom of speech
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Deutsch: Beschlagnahmung durch FBI bedroht Anonymität und Redefreiheit
On 18 April 2012, a server shared by Riseup Networks and May First/People Link in New York City and operated by the European Counter Network (ECN) was seized by a search warrant issued at the request of FBI.
ECN, the oldest independent Internet service provider in Europe, was providing an anonymous remailer service, Mixmaster, which was the target of an FBI investigation into the bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh. Mixmaster was designed to resist censorship and support privacy and anonymity and therefore, makes it impossible for anyone to trace the emails. The system does not record logs of connections, details of who sent messages, or how they were routed.
Riseup Network believes that the action is just an attack to anonymity and free speech and an attempt to intimidation as, in any case, FBI will not be able to trace back to the senders of the messages. Free speech groups, human rights groups, academics, artists, historians, community centres, documentation and software archives and many others expressed concern over FBI action as the server also included the mailing list “cyber rights” (the oldest discussion list in Italy to discuss this topic), a Mexican migrant solidarity group, and other groups working to support indigenous groups and workers in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, that is over 300 email accounts. “We sympathize with the University of Pittsburgh community who have had to deal with this frightening disruption for weeks. We oppose such threatening actions. However, taking this server won’t stop these bomb threats. The only effect it has is to also disrupt e-mail and websites for thousands of unrelated people,” stated Devin Theriot-Orr, a spokesperson for Riseup who added that the seizure was anyway useless for the declared purpose of finding the anonymous threat.
“Furthermore, the network of anonymous remailers that exists is not harmed by taking this machine. So we cannot help but wonder why such drastic action was taken when authorities knew that the server contained no useful information that would help in their investigation.”
Certainly criminals could use Mixmaster, but it is unlikely they would do it as there are other easier ways they could use such as stolen phones, spyware, viruses and other techniques. Moreover remailers and other privacy measures can fight identity theft, physical crimes like stalking for instance. Mixmaster is meant to provide protection for ordinary people who want to follow the law.
The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and several endorsing organisations, including EDRi, strongly denounce the US Federal Authorities action considering it threatens a democratic Internet, silencing hundreds of users around the world for the misuse of anonymous internet services by one person.
Jamie McClelland, director of APC member organisation May First/People Link said, “We cannot stop malicious anonymous e-mail without also destroying the ability to use anonymous e-mail for beneficial purposes. According to the news, the bomb threats continue to arrive at the University of Pittsburgh after this outrageous seizure. There is no positive outcome to this action by the FBI.”
As APC points out, remailers are also important for corporate whistle blowers, democracy activists working under repressive regimes, and others to communicate vital information that would otherwise go unreported. “Such heavy-handed interventions by governments are a violation of US communication law and internet rights, as defined by the Internet Rights Charter, and we call on government leaders to stop these attacks on civil society and internet users’ rights,” said APC executive director, Anriette Esterhuysen.
The measure is therefore not only disproportionate but useless.
APC statement: Internet rights organisations strongly denounce attack on
anonymous online speech by US government (20.04.2012)
Riseup Press Release - Server Seizure April 2012 (18.04.2012)
https://help.riseup.net/en/seizure-2012-april French version