FBI Seized Anonymizer Server

from the protected-anonymity? dept

The US State Department keeps saying it wants to support a free and open internet, and to build systems that protect dissedents and reformers who are speaking out. But it seems that they can’t get the message through to the rest of the US government. Apparently the FBI has seized a server used by various people to anonymize their emails, because it was also used as part of a bomb threat:

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.

As the announcement from Riseup states, the FBI (as is all too typical) is “using a sledgehammer approach,” killing off this important service that many used, just because one person abused it.

“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.”

Why is it that law enforcement almost never seems to think through the actual consequences of actions like these?

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: european counter network, may first/people link, mixmaster, riseup networks

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Comments on “FBI Seized Anonymizer Server”

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85 Comments
:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

The wrong question, perhaps...

Why is it that law enforcement almost never seems to think through the actual consequences of actions like these?

The question posed contains the unspoken assumption that the disruption of anonymous secure communication twixt academics, artists, historians, feminist groups, gay rights groups, community centers, documentation and software archives and free speech groups was not the primary purpose of this raid, with the alleged bomb threat being nothing more than an excuse to take this action. Goodness knows they couldn’t just seize the server for no reason!

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re:

Yes I am mad at morons who think sending bomb threats is a good prank and all the other people that abuse different services in such ways.

I’m more angry though at the government and their over reaction. When a fly gets in your house do you grab a damn shovel and start swinging it around your kitchen? That is exactly the kind of grace and intelligence our government keeps showing.

The governments reaction to a lot of online crime does more damage than the criminal they are going after. It makes no sense when chasing a fleeing criminal do you shut down the airline he happened to use?

Ilfar says:

Re: Re:

I had a tennis racket type thing with batteries. You press the button, swing the racket, and Mr Fly goes BZZZZZT. Oh, and you smell burning fly for a bit, and sometimes they caught fire and you had to make sure the smouldering fly wasn’t going to set anything on fire…

I’m not sure it was less dangerous to things than a spade, now that I think about it…

Richard (profile) says:

Re:

Maybe you people should be getting mad at those that take advantage of their internet access to break the law,

Which would be pointless because there is no way of stopping that short of destroying the internet.

rather than getting mad at law enforcement.

When law enforcement causes a lot of collateral damage whilst failing to actually enforce the laws then it is sensible to complain.

You are the immature one – since you clearlyu haven’t thought your comment through.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re:

Once again I find someone challenging my firm conviction that people should have freedom of speech.

The conclusion I have come to once again? I will still fight for your right to say things such as that, but along with that I also fight for the right to say, Please do us all a favor and go get sterilized. None of us want any more of your genes contaminating the gene pool.

MrWilson says:

Re:

Don’t worry. I get mad at abused housewives every time they make their husbands beat them. And I get mad at rape victims every time they incite men to rape them. I also get mad at all the black people for making the cops so suspicious of them that the cops have to harass them.

/s

Or maybe we should rightly get angry at the people who abuse their authority to shut down perfectly legal and useful tools that happen to get abused by a small number of people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

I suspect that’s they they’re called the Federal Bureau of *Investigation* – they don’t actually come up with ways to catch the bad guys, they just investigate stuff and produce a report that someone can use for evidence later.

Ultimately, it requires someone with functioning braincells to actually come up with ways to *catch* bad guys rather than just document their behavior.

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe this was a good old fashioned Denial of Service attack… send a threat through the service just to have good ole Big Brother take it down…

Hmmm, the thought’s a bit out of place, but it’s a bit how ‘terrorist’ operate… do something to make people fearful/angry or disrupt infrastructure … ultimately folks start disliking/distrusting their government…

Yah, far fetched.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Me?

Is it just me or what the fuck is so hard about setting up a, wait for it, stake out? Pinch the lines, wait for a message and trace every connection in the window? Clearly they had a warrant – all warrant and no fucking brains.. brilliant, I feel so.. what’s the word? Safe. That’s it.

They just wrecked the best possible chance of actually catching some perps because they got a badge and they’re gonna use it?

Oh and fuck everybody else. SOP, move along. Free this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Form of speech doesn't mean an event actually occurred.

Until an act has occurred, no crime has happened.

If the University had the money, they should have hired more security to keep people safe. That seems to be the duty of a university such as this.

However, in a day with rising tuition costs, as well as textbooks, it seems the University may be spending it’s money on other things outside of physical safety and security of its campus. This seems like a negligent oversight by the university of Pittsburgh.

I suggest that the school administration becomes more vigilant and visit with the students that pay their salaries instead of locking themselves up in an office all day. This takes more time but also in the future the students who are successful will feel like contributing to the school’s alumni association.

Instead, they decide to call the FBI. Hah. My neighbor works for the FBI as well. He’s a director and oversees investigations in labor issues.

I can call the FBI too, or walk over to his house. Want his phone number? Maybe you have a hot tip for him or something.

Outsorvin

Anonymous Coward says:

Wait I've got it!!

There you go. But a secret about that Datacenter is this- the NSA doesn’t need more data, and the Datacenter would be illegal if people realize that there’s no functional need for the Patriot Act anymore now that CIA-trained Osama Bin Laden is dead.

The Patriot Act is also probably why Secret Service agents are in hot water.

The company that has the most to gain in an internet society is AT&T. With their Dallas-based headquarters near a number of federal agencies, they currently collect and market your communications to whomever.

In fact, I was at Home Depot the other day and HomeDepot has wifi by AT&T now also. But it’s filtered. Even Google results are filtered according to “administrator’s privelidge”. Which is fine, but still, it’s a lot of URLs and data that can be sold to third parties now that AT&T doesn’t have much outside of it’s brand.

If AT&T keeps this up, I imagine they’ll be broken up soon.

Overcast (profile) says:

I am trying to find the “right to anonymous communications” law… can’t seem to find one.


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The ‘NO LAW’ part… what part of that don’t people understand?

It doesn’t say anything about having to list your name. It simply says ‘no law’.

See Government can’t follow even this simple law – explain again why the people should follow the laws then?

Tom says:

I doubt that they "knew" anything

why such drastic action was taken when authorities knew that the server contained no useful information

Thing is, they just assume that there are logs. Just as an Anonymous Coward post here probably leaves a record in a log, I am sure that they figure anonymous mailers keep logs. The police may not think things through, but they won’t believe that there are no logs until they search the disk. Lots of legitimate search warrants find nothing, but cause disruption. This is just normal operating mode.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Not an "Anonymizer" server.

Anonymizer
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about computer software. For the company Anonymizer, Inc., see Anonymizer (company).

An anonymizer or an anonymous proxy is a tool that attempts to make activity on the Internet untraceable. It is a proxy server computer that acts as an intermediary and privacy shield between a client computer and the rest of the Internet. It accesses the Internet on the user’s behalf, protecting personal information by hiding the client computer’s identifying information.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

The real point...

Tonight or tomorrow there will be a news story.
They will show stock footage of a server, or the actual server being carted out.
There will be a voice over saying how this server was used in the Bomb threats and it has now been sized as the authorities are closing in.

This was a photo op.

The talking heads/pundits screamed ZOMG when someone “hacked” the CIA and Congress websites.
The average citizen is concerned by the hype… they took down the CIA?!
Tech types saw the story for what it was…Someone defaced a poster put up by the CIA.

Obligatory XKCD – https://xkcd.com/932/

This also will be used to add to the climate of the internet being an EVIL thing used for EVIL and we have to have the “right” people making sure bad people don’t use it wrongly. And people will lap it up much like they accepted ball cupping,tit fondling to get on a fucking airplane.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re:

I may have missed something, but the First Amendment gives us not only the right to free speech, but the right to anonymous speech. This has been held up in courts.

Now, there are exceptions. For example; you can’t send a bomb threat to a school. But, you weren’t asking about anonymous bomb threats, you were asking about anonymous communications in general. That we do have the right to. Not just a legal right, but an inalienable right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Found it! So I realized something, you’re referring to anonymous communications, which isn’t actually the issue here. It’s more the private nature of the email. But lets look at post, because post is similar, and the right to anonymous communication there.

So first off, we have an explicit federal crime which prohibits the use of false names, no names, etc… but only when being attempted to commit mail fraud.

Although implicit, it does imply the right to remain anonymous as long as mail fraud is not being committed.

While the person in the article is certainly a threat to the others around him, and I don’t have an issue with the FBI attempting to find him, I do have an issue with the disruption of the day to day affairs of quite a few people who were doing nothing wrong.

URL: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1341

apauld (profile) says:

Form of speech doesn't mean an event actually occurred.

Actually they have ramped up security, quite a bit. Unfortunately, having a campus spread throughout a large section of the city, it just isn’t that easy. Add in recent cutbacks order by our governor… and you can see where they are now. A friend of mine is an IT guy for them, and being he can work from home; they actually told him to do that, just so he could get some work done.

Thomas (profile) says:

The FBI..

and the other government spooks and non-federal cops care very little about whether or not their actions are legal or not. If they want to seize a server for whatever reason they concoct some wild idea and then go ahead and do what they please. They know full well they will most likely get away with it and the worst that will happen is some un-bribed judge will toss it out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

you don’t really think they can’t track the original sender, do you? With the server in hand (before it gets bleached)it isn’t all that difficult. If we can find deleted e-mail and kiddie porn it is possible to find the poster of the bomb threat. Whether they find it or not the server will be returned.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

“”FBI seizes AT&T because someone uses their phone system to call in a bomb threat.””

If AT&T offered specific service to allow people who make prank phone calls or death threats a way to be able to make those calls and make them entirely untraceable, you can bet they would have the FBI in there quick like a bunny.

Your analogy doesn’t work because AT&T isn’t helping people hide out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

But they don’t have the server in hand. They have a server with an anonymizing software install on it. That’s it. The mail did not originate at that server, and the likelyhood of finding traces of it are fairly small. All they’re doing is messing up the free and anonymous speech of groups that still need that anonymity.

Dorian (user link) says:

When a knock comes at the door from an uncle

Forgive me ladies and gentilemen but it is clear that our federal government as many leaders in the nations worldwide have been beginning to catch their own at err. It is naturally up to the public to make known Fraud and anything which threatens the public safety of our people. We do not need to be in the Marines to be loyal and diligent to remember that something greater is at the top of all pyramids and we need to stop worrying as it’s written somewhere. Junk like this always pays dearly and all will be ashamed. When that great Audit comes all accountants will be breaking their pencils, trust me because the more modern age is ushering a likening of an ancient form of accounting which brought on another column. I am not sure if everyone is updated to the this Apha system that has come to lend to this technical form of accounting which is more intelligent actually. It will get harder and harder to get away with the things of the past without detection as a multiplicity of tracks are laid to catch some very strange activities which have been hiding behind the laws which are to protect.
One fine day the faces on the bills that have been circulating shall strike before they go and I am not sure if people will consider how far a forefather we Americans identify with. I am not sure if people know their vbery people nor their family story enough to care about the blood that spilled of every heritage. At least there was someone before another and I am certainly clueless to know WHo was first and had the right when rights were given up or rightfully lost.

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