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21 April 2012, 16:08

FBI seizes US anonymisation server

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Network icon The FBI carried out a midweek raid in New York to confiscate a server belonging to the European Counter Network (ECN), which was running a mixmaster service for sending out anonymised email. The details are revealed in an announcement by alternative providers Riseup Networks and May First/People Link, which run the data centre which hosted the seized server. The seizure is reported to be part of a US police investigation into repeated bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh. The providers and activist groups associated with them have accused the police of adopting a sledgehammer approach, as their actions have also resulted in numerous civil rights projects hosted on the server being taken offline.

The ECN is one of Europe's earliest independent internet access initiatives. According to the providers, the seized server hosted between 50 and 80 mailing lists, including an Italian communications platform on "cyber rights" and a Mexican immigrant solidarity group. The server also hosted over 300 ECN email accounts. The seizure has also taken web sites belonging to many different researchers, artists, historians and activist groups offline. The providers point out that because the remailer software is programmed not to store any connection data, the investigators are unlikely to find any information useful to their investigation.

A spokesman for Riseup said that, while they understood the concerns of the University of Pittsburgh community, removing the server was not going to hinder the bomb threats, as it would not disrupt provision of the anonymisation service. According to the Riseup spokesman, the "drastic action" was "particularly misguided", especially as the authorities "knew that the server contained no useful information that would help in their investigation". The mixmaster network is, he added, designed to resist censorship and promote data protection, and is used in particular by human rights activists and whistleblowers. Rates of abuse are, he says, very low.

(Stefan Krempl / djwm)

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