[News] Riseup Server Seizure
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 20 10:49:06 EDT 2012
On Wednesday April 18th, a server hosted in Riseup's NYC facility was
seized without warning by the US Federal authorities. Be assured, the
machine does not have any Riseup data on it. The machine that was seized
was operated by the European Counter Network (ECN), an Italian
technology collective with a deep history providing email, lists and web
hosting services to colleagues around the world supporting social change
To repeat: no Riseup service or user data is on this machine. No Riseup
keys or certificates are on the machine. Furthermore, the root
file system of this machine is encrypted.
The server was seized because it hosted an email anonymizer called
Mixmaster. By design, Mixmaster stores zero data, which the FBI is well
aware of. In a display of gross overreach, they decided to seize the
For more information, please read the full press release:
The Riseup Collective
Server Seizure, April 2012
April 18th, 2012, Riseup had a server seized by
the US Federal Authorities. This is our press release.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FBI seizes server providing anonymous remailer
and many other services from colocation facility.
Riseup Networks, Devin Theriot-Orr, 206-708-8740, sunbird at riseup.net
May First/People Link, Jamie McClelland, 917-509-5734, jm at mayfirst.org
ECN: Isole Nella Rete, inr at riseup.net
Attack on Anonymous Speech¶
On Wednesday, April 18, at approximately 16:00
Eastern Time, U.S. Federal authorities removed a
server from a colocation facility shared by
Riseup Networks and May First/People Link in New
York City. The seized server was operated by the
European Counter Network (ECN), the oldest
independent internet service provider in Europe,
who, among many other things, provided an
anonymous remailer service, Mixmaster, that was
the target of an FBI investigation into the bomb
threats against the University of Pittsburgh.
The company running the facility has confirmed
that the server was removed in conjunction with a
search warrant issued at the request of the FBI,
said May First/People Link director Jamie
McClelland. The server seizure is not only an
attack against us, but an attack against all
users of the Internet who depend on anonymous communication.
Disrupted in this seizure were academics,
artists, historians, feminist groups, gay rights
groups, community centers, documentation and
software archives and free speech groups. The
server 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. In total, over 300 email
accounts, between 50-80 email lists, and several
other websites have been taken off the Internet
by this action. None are alleged to be involved
in the anonymous bomb threats. The seized machine
did not contain any riseup email accounts, lists,
or user data. Rather, the data belonged to ECN.
The FBI is using a sledgehammer approach,
shutting down service to hundreds of users due to
the actions of one anonymous person, said Devin
Theriot-Orr, a spokesperson for Riseup. 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
wont stop these bomb threats. The only effect it
has is to also disrupt e-mail and websites for
thousands of unrelated people, continues Mr.
Theriot-Orr. 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.
The FBI purportedly seized the server because it
was hosting an anonymous remailer called
Mixmaster. Anonymous remailers are used to send
email anonymously, or pseudonymously. Like other
anonymizing services such as the Tor network,
these remailers are widely used to protect the
identity of human rights activists who place
themselves and their families in grave danger by
reporting information about abuses. Remailers are
also important for corporate whistle blowers,
democracy activists working under repressive
regimes, and others to communicate vital
information that would otherwise go un-reported.
The Mixmaster software is specifically designed
to make 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. This is because the Mixmaster
network is specifically designed to resist
censorship, and support privacy and anonymity.
Unfortunately, some people misuse the network.
However, compared to the rate of legitimate use,
the abuse rate is very low. There is therefore no
legitimate purpose for the FBI to seize this
server because they will not be able to obtain
any information about the sender. This is plainly
extra-judicial punishment and an attack on free
speech and anonymity on the internet and serves
as a chilling effect on others providers of
anonymous remailers or other anonymous services.
In absence of any other leads, the FBI needs to
show that they are making progress in this case,
and this has meant seizing a server so they can
proudly demonstrate they are taking some action.
But what this incident shows is they are grasping
at straws and are willing to destroy innocent
bystanders for the sake of protecting their careers.
About the organizations involved¶
MayFirst/People Link (mayfirst.org) is a
politically-progressive member-run and controlled
organization that redefines the concept of
Internet Service Provider in a collective and
collaborative way. May First/People Links
members are organizers and activists who elect a
Leadership Committee to direct the organization.
Like a coop, members pay dues, buy equipment and
then share that equipment for websites, email,
email lists, and other Internet purposes.
Riseup Networks (riseup.net) provides online
communication tools for people and groups working
on liberatory social change. Riseup creates
democratic alternatives and practices
self-determination by controlling our own secure means of communications.
ECN (European Counter Network ecn.org) is the
oldest independent service provider in Europe
providing free email accounts, mailing lists, and
websites to organizations, activists, and
movements that are involved in human rights,
freedom of speech and information in Italy and
Europe. ECN is anti-fascist and works towards a
just and equal society. Years ago, before sites
like Youtube and Vimeo existed, ECN created a
platform called NGV where people could upload and
share independent video of human rights
violations. Nowadays ECN works primarily with
anti-fascist and anti-Nazi movements in all of
Europe, providing space and resources to political and social centers.
Questions / further reading¶
Q: Doesnt Mixmaster/anonymous remailers enable criminals to do bad things?
A: Criminals can already do bad things. Since
theyre willing to break laws, they already have
lots of options available that provide better
privacy than mixmaster provides. They can steal
cell phones, use them, and throw them in a ditch;
they can crack into computers in Korea or Brazil
and use them to launch abusive activities; they
can use spyware, viruses, and other techniques to
take control of literally millions of Windows machines around the world.
Mixmaster aims to provide protection for ordinary
people who want to follow the law. Only criminals
have privacy right now, and we need to fix that.
Some advocates of anonymity explain that its
just a tradeoff accepting the bad uses for the
good ones but theres more to it than that.
Criminals and other bad people have the
motivation to learn how to get good anonymity,
and many have the motivation to pay well to
achieve it. Being able to steal and reuse the
identities of innocent victims (identify theft)
makes it even easier. Normal people, on the other
hand, dont have the time or money to spend
figuring out how to get privacy online. This is
the worst of all possible worlds.
So yes, criminals could in theory use mixmaster,
but they already have better options, and it
seems unlikely that taking mixmaster away from
the world will stop them from doing bad things.
At the same time, mixmaster and other privacy
measures can fight identity theft, physical
crimes like stalking, and so on. Please see the
tor FAQ on abuse for more information.
Q: How does Mixmaster / Anonymous remailers work?
A: Anonymous remailers work by connecting to
other anonymous remailers in a chain, and every
one in that chain removes the mail header
information making it impossible to find the real
sender. The Tor project maintains a list of
typical users of this and other anonymity systems, and the Mixmaster home page
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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