FBI seizure to threaten anonymity and freedom of speech

By EDRi · April 25, 2012

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Beschlagnahmung durch FBI bedroht Anonymität und Redefreiheit | https://www.unwatched.org/EDRigram_10.8_Beschlagnahmung_durch_FBI_bedroht_Anonymitaet_und_Redefreiheit?pk_campaign=edri&pk_kwd=20120507]

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)
French version