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[liberationtech] Riseup had a server seized by the US Federal Authorities

Anne Roth annalist at
Thu Apr 19 15:31:06 PDT 2012

Server Seizure, April 2012
April 18th, 2012, Riseup had a server seized by the US Federal 
Authorities. This is our press release.


FBI seizes server providing anonymous remailer and many other services 
from colocation facility.

- Riseup Networks, Devin Theriot-Orr, 206-708-8740, sunbird at
- May First/People Link, Jamie McClelland, 917-509-5734, jm at
- ECN: Isole Nella Rete, inr at

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 by 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 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 won’t 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 ( 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 Link’s 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 ( 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 – 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: Doesn’t Mixmaster/anonymous remailers enable criminals to do bad things?

A: Criminals can already do bad things. Since they’re 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 it’s just a tradeoff — 
accepting the bad uses for the good ones — but there’s 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, 
don’t 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. (

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

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