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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 June, 2005, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Freedom of press under attack?
The police seizure this week of a computer server belonging to alternative network Indymedia is not the first time the organisation has been targeted. Last time the FBI was involved - on behalf of the Italian and Swiss authorities.

Cabling behind servers
Indymedia has criticised the raid

On Monday, British Transport Police carried out a raid in Bristol after complaints about a posting on the site relating to an act of rail vandalism.

Two linked computers were removed as officers wanted the IP address of the poster, which is something Indymedia did not want to hand over, as a point of principle.

Officers swooped after getting a search warrant from a magistrate, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. One person was arrested and bailed.

The magistrate rejected arguments the server was "journalistic equipment". If the argument had been accepted, it would have been harder - but not impossible - for the police to take.

But Indymedia, supported by the NUJ and Liberty, said the raid was an attack on press freedom.

Every news publisher should be wondering, 'will I be silenced next?'
Kurt Opsahl
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Tim Lezard, president of the NUJ, said: "We are not agents of the police and are not here to provide them with information.

"We are obviously not happy that police have closed the server. We are supposed to be a free press."

In an age rife with bloggers, Detective Inspector Tony Bennett disagrees: "This is an open forum, with an invitation to submit what you want. The server is not journalistic equipment."

He added the larger issue of an act of vandalism on the railways should also be considered.

"What has happened is beyond reproach and lacks any understanding of the protection and safety of people," he said.

Even if Indymedia was considered to be a bona fide journalistic operation, it is not protected from handing over material.

Actions 'troubling'

Police can go to court to get media outlets to hand over information for specific reasons including the prevention or detection of crime.

But Kurt Opsahl, staff attorney at the digital rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the police actions were "troubling".

"By seizing the servers, the UK authorities pulled the plug on the entire Bristol website - our modern printing presses - and took down a host of political journalism.

"Every news publisher should be wondering, 'will I be silenced next?'"

Aside from the issue of press freedom, there is the question of whether police will be successful in getting hold of the IP address.

A spokeswoman from Indymedia says it does not keep them.

Articles remain

"We have scripts that run regularly that wipe IP addresses," she said.

"We make it a policy not to store them. But to say they are definitely not there is impossible."

What happens next is equally important.

A spokesman for QinetiQ said: "It is not just about data recovery. It is about the due diligence process the pc goes through to make the evidence admissible in court."

Indymedia says it cannot delete articles as this is too controversial for such a site, but did move the post in question to a part of the site "not easily accessible", because it breached their guidelines.

It will be up to the courts to decide what to do with Indymedia's server now.




SEE ALSO:
Indymedia server seized in raid
28 Jun 05 |  Bristol/Somerset
FBI returns seized news servers
14 Oct 04 |  Technology
US seizes independent media sites
11 Oct 04 |  Technology


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