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UK-USA: Was the seizure of Indymedia's servers in London unlawful or did the UK government collude?
01 October 2004
- "A trail that started in Switzerland and Italy has now ended fairly and squarely in the lap of the UK Home Secretary to justify"
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor
"Rackspace may be a US company but Rackspace in London is subject to UK law not US law. If they took down and handed over Indymedia's servers simply on the basis of a US subpoena communicated to them this would not be lawful in the UK.
However it seems more likely that the US subpoena was the subject of a request for mutual legal assistance from the US Attorney General to the UK Home Secretary under the MLA Treaty. It would be for the Metropolitan Police, probably accompanied by the FBI, to enforce the request and take possession of the servers.
This begs the questions: 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? Has the Home Office requested that the servers be returned? What does this action say about freedom of expression and freedom of the press?
A trail that started in Switzerland and Italy has now ended fairly and squarely in the lap of the UK Home Secretary to justify."
UK-USA Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in criminal matters
On Thursday 7 October a US subpoena was issued ordering the London office of Rackspace (a US company) to take down and hand over Indymedia's web servers which it hosted.
An FBI spokesman, Joe Parris, told AFP
(link) that: "It is not an FBI operation. Through a legal assistance treaty, the subpoena was on behalf of a third country"
. The subpoena he confirmed had been issued at the request of Swiss and Italian authorities. He further said that there was no US investigation but that the agency had cooperated under the terms of an international treaty on law enforcement.
On Friday 8 October Rackspace put out the following statement:
"In the present matter regarding Indymedia, Rackspace Managed Hosting, a U.S. based company with offices in London, is acting in compliance with a court order pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), which establishes procedures for countries to assist each other in investigations such as international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering. Rackspace responded to a Commissioner's subpoena, duly issued under Title 28, United States Code, Section 1782 in an investigation that did not arise in the United States. Rackspace is acting as a good corporate citizen and is cooperating with international law enforcement authorities. The court prohibits Rackspace from commenting further on this matter."
The third countries are Switzerland and Italy. In a statement Indymedia
said it: "had been asked last month by the FBI to remove a story about Swiss undercover police from one of the websites hosted by Rackspace". It is not known what grounds the Italian authorities used, though the government has been hostile to Indymedia
ever since its coverage of Genoa in 2001. This follows attempts to shut down Indymedia
sites in the USA as well, see: FBI Secret Service
The list of affected 20 sites include Ambazonia, Uruguay, Andorra, Poland, Western Massachusetts, Nice, Nantes, Lilles, Marseille (all France), Euskal Herria (Basque Country), Liege, East and West Vlaanderen, Antwerpen (all Belgium), Belgrade, Portugal, Prague, Galiza, Italy, Brazil, UK, part of the Germany site, and the global Indymedia Radio site.
How could this happen in the UK?
Accepting the version presented by the FBI spokesman the trail seems to be that Swiss and Italian authorities sought the help of US authorities to shut down offending Indymedia
sites. Rackspace then "responded" to a US su