28 June 2005

More Indymedia seizures

ON THE eve of the G8 summit in Scotland police in Bristol have seized the server computer that runs the local Indymedia "newswire" - and a group in Italy have discovered that police have been intercepting legally sensitive communications for a year.

At about 5:30pm on Monday (27 June) British Transport police visited the home of a member of the Bristol Indymedia Collective (BIC). They arrested him and charged him with incitement to criminal damage, and seized the computer that hosted Bristol Indymedia information as well as personal computers. That evening they bailed him for a date in October.

Indymedia centres operate open "newswires". As well as collective members researching and publishing stories, any internet user can post stories or comments. Ten days previously, someone posted a message of which the least incoherent parts called for people to "stick two fingers up to this oil-addicted society," mentioning trainloads of new cars shipped from Portbury Dock and "dropping rocks onto useless pieces of metal".

The Freelance understands that a person who had fallen out with BIC reported this message to the police, telling them that BIC would be able to identify the person who wrote it from a log of the computer addresses ("IP numbers") of such contributors. Indymedia sites do not retain such details. BIC had removed the message in question from the public site before police emailed them.

When the police contacted them. BIM called the NUJ and civil liberties organisation Liberty, who argued that demanding information from Indymedia requires a special warrant to obtain journalistic material under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Asked about this, a British Transport Police spokesperson said "A warrant was obtained; I don't know the details. ... Website server - I don't know if you could describe it as journalistic material?" They later clarified that "We obtained a Section 8 [PACE] Warrant after discussing with the Crown Prosecution Service who said we didn't need a Section 9 / Schedule 1 [journalistic material] warrant." Section 8 warrants cover evidence-gathering except where privileged, excluded (that is, confidential or medical) or "special procedure" (that is, other journalistic) material is involved.

The NUJ has strongly supported Indymedia, particularly when the main Indymedia UK servers in London were seized by persons unknown, claiming to be acting for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, just before the European Social Forum gathering in London on 7 October 2004. That seizure appears to have originated with a request from the Italian government to a court in Texas. Many believe that the motive was to obtain confidential lawyer-client communications concerning the police attack on 22 July 2001 on the school building that Indymedia used as a base during protests around the Genoa G8 meeting in and subsequent lawsuits.

On Tuesday evening BIC issued this statement:

We are outraged at the actions of the police. They have completely disabled the entire Bristol Indymedia news service. By their actions they have undermined the principle of open publishing and free access to the media, thereby removing people's opportunity to read and report their own news. This situation has serious implications for anyone providing a news service on the Internet. We do not intend to let this stop us from continuing the project.

And an even more independent information service in Italy - http://autistici.org - reports discovering that on 15 June 2004 police secretly obtained copies of the passwords and encryption keys used to keep emails sent through their system secure.

According to Indymedia USA the server was turned off while the police were copying data: asked why it was off, the hosting company Aruba said there had been a power failure. They may have been forced to lie: in the UK, for example, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act makes it an offence punishable by five years in prison to reveal that you have been ordered to reveal an encryption key - see here.

The server in question hosts email accounts and mailing lists - including those of the Genoa Legal Forum and HREF="http://https://supportolegale.org/">supportolegale.org. These are likely to have conveyed privileged lawyer-client communications concering the post-Genoa lawsuits. This raises the gravest of suspicions over the Italian authorities' motives for intercepting these communications.

More Indymedia woes - 2004 court order unsealed

Coverage of the 2004 seizure from The Register

Last modified: 30 June 2005 - © 2005 contributors
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