The FBI Almost Seized My Emails

(Well, sort of, not really.) Yesterday, at 4:00 p.m., the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seized a server from a colocation facility shared by Riseup Networks and May First/People Link in New York City. Cooperatively run May First, among other wonderful things, hosts my email account. The Feds seized a server operated by the European Counter Network (, the oldest independent internet service provider in Europe, which has offered free online communication services to thousands of political activists and groups. The warrant alleges that the ECN’s anonymous remailer, Mixmaster, was being used to send bomb threats to the University of Pittsburgh. Obviously, the bomb threats are indefensible, but anonymous communication systems must be protected. Things like the Arab Spring and other examples of political dissidence sometimes rely and thrive on anonymity. Devin Theriot-Orr, a spokesperson for Riseup, explains:

The FBI is using a sledgehammer approach, shutting down service to hundreds of users due to the actions of one anonymous person. 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. 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.

Maybe off-shore data havens aren’t such a bad idea—that is, as long as they’re used for  things other than porn, spam, and banking. Sealand, anyone?

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