Progressive internet rights organisations strongly denounce attack on anonymous online speech by US government
On Wednesday, April 18, at approximately 16:00 ET, U.S. Federal authorities removed a server from a colocation facility shared by Riseup Networks and May First/People Link in New York City.
The seized server was operated by the European Counter Network (“ECN”), the oldest independent internet service provider in Europe, who, among many other things, provided an anonymous remailer service, Mixmaster, that was the target of an FBI investigation into the bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh.
"The company running the facility has confirmed that the server was removed in conjunction with a search warrant issued by the FBI," said May First/People Link director Jamie McClelland. "The server seizure is not only an attack against us, but an attack against all users of the Internet who depend on anonymous communication."
Disrupted in this seizure were academics, artists, historians, feminist groups, gay rights groups, community centers, documentation and software archives and free speech groups. The server 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. In total, over 300 email accounts, between 50-80 email lists, and several other websites have been taken off the Internet by this action. None are alleged to be involved in the anonymous bomb threats.
"The FBI is using a sledgehammer approach, shutting down service to hundreds of users due to the actions of one anonymous person," said Devin Theriot-Orr, a spokesperson for Riseup. "This is particularly misguided because there is unlikely to be any information on the server regarding the source of the threatening emails."
"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," continues Mr. Theriot-Orr. "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."
The FBI purportedly seized the server because it was hosting an anonymous remailer called Mixmaster. Anonymous remailers are used to send email anonymously, or pseudonymously. Like other anonymizing services such as the Tor network, these remailers are widely used to protect the identity of human rights activists who place themselves and their families in grave danger by reporting information about abuses. Remailers are also important for corporate whistle blowers, democracy activists working under repressive regimes, and others to communicate vital information that would otherwise go un-reported.
The Mixmaster software is specifically designed to make 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. This is because the Mixmaster network is specifically designed to resist censorship, and support privacy and anonymity. Unfortunately, some people misuse the network. However, compared to the rate of legitimate use, the abuse rate is very low. There is therefore no legitimate purpose for the FBI to seize this server because they will not be able to obtain any information about the sender. This is plainly extrajudicial punishment and an attack on free speech and anonymity on the internet and serves as a chilling effect on others providers of anonymous remailers or other anonymous services.
If you wish to endorse a statement from civil society organizations denouncing actions by the US government, please go here to read the statement and then send your name and organisation (if applicable) to mallory at apc.org with “Endorsement” in the subject line.