Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

People have been reporting about the FBI ordering a hosting provider, Rackspace, with offices in the US and the UK to seize at least two servers from Indymedia's UK datacenter. Indymedia is a well known edgy alternative news site which was established to provide grassroots coverage of the WTO protests in Seattle. It has grown into a multinational resource for some hardcore journalism including a lot of work on the Diebold and the Patroit Act issues. The reports as well as Indymedia's page on this story say that the FBI has not provided a reason for the seizure to Indymedia. The statement from Rackspace says:

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.
In past, Indymedia has done stuff like posting photos of undercover police officers. However, according to Indymedia, the "FBI asked for the Nantes post on swiss police to be removed, but admitted no laws were violated". This time the FBI has not told them what they've done wrong and Rackspace is under a gag order so they can't even tell Indymedia exactly what hardware they removed.

This implies that some non-US entity had the FBI force an action in the UK under MLAT. This means that Indymedia is being suspected of engaging in international terrorism, kidnapping or money laundering. I've seen some extreme reporting on Indymedia, but terrorism, kidnapping or money laundering? I guess the definition of "terrorism" has been expanded to meet popular demand these days, but come on... really?

This reminds me of toywar. A group of Swiss artists established in 1994 who are Golden Nica award winners from my Ars Electronica jury in 1996 call themselves etoy. Later, Etoys, founded in 1998 tried to take the domain by force. They got a temporary injunction against the web site because a judge in LA agreed that it was confusing to customers of Etoys. Network Soutions complied and went beyond their call of duty and shut down email as well for good measure. Swiss artists can be sued in a US court and having their email shut down by a US registrar.

My point is, be careful where your data lives...

UPDATE: is speculating that it is because Indymedia published the identities of the RNC delegates.

UPDATE2: It appears that maybe it wasn't the RNC, but the photos of the police officers according to Cryptome.

UPDATE3: imajes has an written a letter to his MPs. Maybe others should do the same.


Al Qaeda has been using messageboards in sort of a random shift procedure, flipping to one, leaving a few messages, and then flipping to another. Same with Hotmail and Yahoo e-mails, which have become somewhat disposable. Maybe they popped up on Indymedia, where some of their statements wouldn't appear that far out of the norm. Or maybe it's just random. Using random e-mails to communicate is pretty easy.

Basically you say:

Every Wednesday,
Take the lead headline of the London Times:
Use the first letter of each word:
Add the projected high temperature for the day:
Create hotmail account.

On Thursday receive an e-mail to that address.

Of course I just made that up (sorry if you get an FBI warrant Joi) but it is simple tricks like that which sees Al Qaeda move around the net, annonymous in the sprawl.

Did they come onto IndyMedia, or did someone with a "disposable" e-mail pop up there? Wouldn't surprise me. Of course, they could be on or messageboards just as easily.

Here'e a neat article on Al Qaeda's use of the net.

But why would they use Indymedia?

a) Totally random
b) Their "rants" against the US would "blend in" making them harder to find.
c) They might be recruiting (remember the British released intel a few months ago about wanting 'Western faces' for their operations).
c) They didn't and this is about something else (my vote).

Clearly we don't have enough information, but my point is that Al Qaeda is using the net like spammers. Al Qaeda operatives have probably been to your page. And mine, and CNN and the BBC and the They come in, pop up, pop out. Think of them like the comment spammers we all have to battle.

It's like trying to find the beheading videos. I've talked to some Arabic-speaking friends and asked "where are all these Al-Qaeda websites I hear about" and they replied "you never know. They pop up one day, sometimes using pirated webspace, sometimes as part of someone elses servers, and by the time word gets out to the general public they are shut down, only to reappear somewhere else." Most of them don't even get googlebot'd because they aren't online that long.

Indymedia is already in trouble for voter intimidation about the posts about "do what you will" with the names and address of the Republican delegates. It could be this is related to that (that was the point of most of the slashdotters in their comments on this but your post suggests otherwise).

It's actually kind of an interesting technology exercise--how they can stay "anonymous" in a world where every step is logged. They seem to be one step ahead of the law, for now...

Andrew. Thanks for the pointer to Slashdot. Found the nyc.indymedia page with that speculation and updated this post.

Joi San, even though Indimedias coverage ranges from utterly ghastly to outright excellent I'm flaberghasted by such action by the c00l dudez of the FBI.

Specifically after the downfall of the US media after the WTC attacks it was one of the few sources providing the other side of the medal.

I guess it blends in nicely with such niceties like seizing your library records, sending Canadian citizens for an extended double dose of torchuring to Syria and snazzy voting machines with a bold TRUST ME on their displays. Oh, and delivered by a company whose CEO promises to make sure that Dicta^H^H^H^H^H Commander in Chief Bush wins the next election in Ohio.

I guess the next Amnesty International annual report will prove interesting.

I hope everything's fine in Tokyo.

One of the most followed Italian daily TV News TG1 (broadband stream available) reported in its 1.30PM edition this evening that it was based on a request from Italy that the FBI acted, and that there are specific mutual assistance agreements in place to speed up action in these cases.

It should be blindingly obvious even to hapless liberals (and I speak as a non-hapless one) that disclosing the identity of someone as any kind of undercover officer or secret agent does great harm, not just to the organization that employes him or her, but to the person.
This is the crux of the matter in the Plame case. At the very least you make them unemployable; at the very worst you get them and/or their family members and friends killed. And what if you are wrong and the person is no such thing? What then?

2 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Do you know where your data is?.

TrackBack URL for this entry:

More news on FBI vs. IndyMedia Read More

More news on FBI vs. IndyMedia Read More