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SA-based Rackspace surrenders two servers to FBI

The privacy policy of Rackspace Managed Hosting sounds stern: "Rackspace makes every effort to follow industry standard security measures to prevent the loss, misuse, and alteration of the information under our control."

But on October 7, that privacy policy was only as valid as the computer screen it was viewed upon when the FBI subpoenaed the San Antonio-based company to surrender servers leased by the Independent Media Center (www.indymedia.org).

The IMC is a collective of world-wide independent media organizations, on-line journalists, and activists who post stories and information to the site, which has links to all the media collectives worldwide. There are three Texas media collectives affiliated with the IMC, in North Texas, Houston, and Austin.

Acting on behalf of the Italian and Swiss governments, a U.S. District Court issued the order and the FBI delivered the subpoena requiring Rackspace, which hosts the IMC's web servers, to surrender the hard drives from a server located in London.

Sites to more than 20 media collectives were affected and are down, including those in Poland, Uruguay, Massachuessetts, France, Prague, Italy, and Brazil. An independent radio station that streamed audio through the IMC site was also shut down.

The courts and the FBI had jurisdiction to seize the servers under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, to which the U.S., Britain, Italy, and Switzerland belong. The international treaty allows countries to assist one another in investigations concerning international terrorism, kidnapping, and money-laundering.

Hep Sano, an IMC member, told the Current that Rackspace has not contacted the organization to further discuss the subpoena. Sano said she is unsure what prompted the seizure, but speculates that at issue are photos anonymously posted to the French Nantes IMC site of undercover Swiss police officers conducting surveillance of protestors at the G8 Summit in Evian in 2003. "They `the officers` are waving," Sano said. "They weren't trying to hide. We think this could be a loose interpretation of post-9/11 homeland security."

In a prepared statement, Rackspace said that the court prohibits the company from talking about the case. "Rackspace is being a good corporate citizen and is cooperating with law enforcement authorities."

The FBI could not be reached by press deadline.

According to the IMC, on October 1 the FBI asked the Seattle Indymedia collective and Jeff Moe, who manages the server that hosts the Nantes Indymedia site, to remove the photos. The Seattle collective reportedly told the FBI they couldn't take them down since the photos didn't originate on their site.

Moe, who related his visit by the FBI on the yro.slashdot.org website, wrote that the agents "informed me that they were here on a 'courtesy visit' on behalf of the Swiss government." The agents reportedly told Moe they were concerned that the post contained the officers' home addresses and phone numbers, but that the photos were not at issue.

"They informed me that no law had been violated, but they were just requesting on behalf of the Swiss government that the information be removed,"

Moe wrote.

Moe reportedly told the FBI that it would be difficult to find the post because thousands of stories are posted to the IMC site each day. Moe said he told the agents to contact the Nantes Indymedia Center directly. He also forwarded the request to the Nantes webmasters, who digitally masked the faces of the officers in the photos.

Nick Cooper of the Houston Independent Media Collective said that each collective has its own editorial policies on what content is allowed on its website. "We would rather err on the side of open publishing than censorship."

Sano said authorities will find nothing on the servers because IMC doesn't keep e-mail addresses or other personal information regarding its collectives or e-mail subscribers. In previous encounters with the FBI, Sano said, the IMC has told agents that there is nothing on the servers. "We really don't have anything," she said. "There's nothing for them to see."

The IMC was founded in 1999 to provide grassroots coverage of the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. It serves as a global clearinghouse for media and information.

Rackspace Managed Hosting was recently named one of Texas' 50 fastest growing companies by analysts Deloitte & Touche. According to company estimates, revenues could reach $100 million this year. Clients include small start-ups to large corporations including EMI, Miller Brewing, Best Buy, and National Geographic.

Sano said the IMC plans to leave Rackspace; the group has also retained lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit group that defends clients in digital rights cases.

In essence, Cooper said, the actions of the courts, FBI, and Rackspace threaten the First Amendment right to free speech and a free press. "We're interested in meeting with Rackspace and telling them that they have violated our organization. This isn't to be taken lightly or accepted on any level. Customers need to feel secure that their service is going to include constitutional protections."

By Lisa Sorg


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