The FBI seized a server from an office jointly shared by May/First People link and Riseup, two radical collectives of information activists providing internet services for the activist community around the country and world, on Wednesday. Riseup provides a crucial anonymous email service, which masks the identities of the sender and receiver, allowing for activists to contact one another about important political work, without worrying about oppressive state surveillance apparatus. MayFirst/People Link is a non-profit, collectively run internet service provider that has been providing affordable and politically aware internet services for nearly a decade to activists in the US and around the world. Riseup has been a consistent principled option for activists who don’t want to contribute to the ongoing corporate domination of information technology and want a level of anonymity for their online communications. Like many others in Occupy, I just got a Riseup account myself a couple of weeks ago.
As the US and other countries spend more and more of their counter-activism work surveilling the electronic correspondences of activists, it is of upmost importance that groups like Riseup and Mayfirst continue to provide these kinds of services to groups like Occupy and to other groups throughout the world fighting for social justice. It’s not surprising, therefore, that this seizure comes in the run up to planning for global May Day actions that will occur on unprecedented levels this year. As members of both groups explain, the pretext for the seizure is fairly unconvincing; this is more likely an extra judicial salvo aimed at terrifying and halting the work of information activists during the crucial spring awakening, and, by relation, the Occupy activists around the world relying on such services. It won’t work.
Below is the official press release from May First and RiseUp.
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
“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.
MayFirst/People Link (mayfirst.org) is a politically-progressive
member-run and controlled organization that redefines the concept of
“Internet Service Provider” in a collective and collaborative way. May
First/People Link’s members are organizers and activists who elect a
Leadership Committee to direct the organization. Like a coop, members
pay dues, buy equipment and then share that equipment for websites,
email, email lists, and other Internet purposes.
Riseup Networks (riseup.net) provides online communication tools for
people and groups working on liberatory social change. Riseup creates
democratic alternatives and practices self-determination by controlling
our own secure means of communications.
ECN (European Counter Network – ecn.org) is the oldest independent
service provider in Europe providing free email accounts, mailing lists,
and websites to organizations, activists, and movements that are
involved in human rights, freedom of speech and information in Italy and
Europe. ECN is anti-fascist and works towards a just and equal society.
Years ago, before sites like Youtube and Vimeo existed, ECN created a
platform called NGV where people could upload and share independent
video of human rights violations. Nowadays ECN works primarily with
anti-fascist and anti-Nazi movements in all of Europe, providing space
and resources to political and social centers.
You can read two interviews I did with Jamie McClelland, co-founder of May First/People Link, here and here. The second post has the added bonus of an interview with the best blogger in the universe, Glenn Greenwald.