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Seattle Indymedia FBI Visit Press Release

gag order lifted; independent media center in free
speech battle in wake of
fbi /secret service visit
----- Forwarded message from Sheri Herndon
< sheri@indymedia.org> -----
Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2001 09:45:45 -0700
From: Sheri Herndon < sheri@indymedia.org>

27 APRIL 2001

CONTACT: Seattle Independent Media Center 206.262.0721

On the evening of Saturday, April 21, a day during
which tens of thousands
demonstrated against the FTAA in the streets of Quebec
City, the Independent
Media Center in Seattle was served with a sealed court
order by two FBI
agents and an agent of the US Secret Service. The terms
of the sealed order
prevented IMC volunteers from publicizing its terms;
volunteers immediately
began discussions with legal counsel to amend the
order. This morning, April
27, Magistrate Judge Monica Benton issued an amended
order, freeing us to
discuss the situation without the threat of being held
in contempt.

The original order, also issued by Judge Benton,
directed the IMC to supply
the FBI with "all user connection logs" for April 20
and 21st from a web
server occupying an IP address which the Secret Service
believed belonged to
the IMC. The order stated that this was part of
an "ongoing criminal
investigation" into acts that could constitute
violations of Canadian law,
specifically theft and mischief. IMC legal counsel
David Sobel, of the
Electronic Privacy Information Center, comments: "As
the U.S. Supreme Court
has recognized, the First Amendment protects the right
to communicate
anonymously with the press and for political purposes.
An order compelling
the disclosure of information identifying an
indiscriminately large number
of users of a website devoted to political discourse
raises very serious
constitutional issues. To provide the same protection
to the press and
anonymous sources in the Internet world as with more
traditional media, the
Government must be severely limited in its ability to
demand their Internet
identity--their "Internet Protocol addresses." A
federal statute already
requires that such efforts against the press be
approved by the Attorney
General, and only where essential and after
alternatives have been
exhausted. There is no suggestion that these standards
were met here.

The sealed court order also directed the IMC not to
disclose "the existence
of this Application or Order, or the existence of this
investigation, unless
or until ordered by this court." Such a prior
restraint on a media
organization goes to the heart of the First Amendment.
Ironically, the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer learned about the existence
of the order from
"federal sources," suggesting that the purpose of the
gag order was simply
to allow the government to spin the issue its way.

The order did not specify what acts were being
investigated, and the Secret
Service agent acknowledged that the IMC itself was not
suspected of criminal
activity. No violation of US law was alleged. It is not
clear whether
federal law allows the Attorney General ever to approve
such an
investigation of US press entities to facilitate a
foreign investigation.
According to IMC counsel Lee Tien of the Electronic
Frontier Foundation,
"This kind of fishing expedition is another in a long
line of overbroad and
onerous attempts to chill political speech and
activism. Back in 1956,
Alabama tried to force the NAACP to give up its
membership lists -- but the
Supreme Court stopped them. This order to IMC, even
without the 'gag,' is a
threat to free speech, free association, and privacy."

Responding to questions from IMC volunteers, the agents
claimed that their
investigation concerned the source of either one or two
postings which, they
said, had been posted to an IMC newswire early Saturday
morning. These
posts, according to the agents, contained documents
stolen from a Canadian
government agency, including classified information
related to the travel
itinerary of George W. Bush (who was at that time in
Quebec City,
participating in Summit of the Americas meetings).
Agents claimed that the
Secret Service was notified of the existence of such
posts by a tip from an
(unnamed) major commercial news network.

The agents were unable to provide URL addresses or
titles for the postings
they described. Additionally, the court order contained
a non-working IP
address, rather than an address assigned to any of the
IMC sites. IMC
volunteers nevertheless were able to identify two
articles posted to the
Montreal IMC which partially matched the agents'
incomplete description.
These articles, posted first in French and then in
English translations
( http://montreal.indymedia.org/front.php3?
article_id=505, 514 and 515),
contain sections of documents purportedly stolen from a
Quebec City police
car during Friday night anti-FTAA demonstrations; the
documents detail
police strategies for hindering protesters' mass
action. It does not appear
that any materials were posted to any IMC site
containing Bushıs travel

Although the agents were concerned with only two posts,
the court order
demands "all user connections logs" for a 48-hour
period, which would
include individual IP addresses for every person who
posted materials to or
visited the IMC site during the FTAA protests. IMC
legal counsel Nancy
Chang, of the Center for Constitutional Rights,
comments that "the overbroad
sweep of the information demanded by the FBI raises the
disturbing question
of whether the order is calculated to discourage
association with the IMC."

The agents arrived at the IMC around 7pm. Seattle IMC
volunteers had been
busy all afternoon gathering regional IMC coverage of
FTAA protests underway
in Seattle and in Blaine, Washington, and coordinating
coverage with other
sites on the IMC network. Several visitors were also in
the IMC at the time,
using public computers.. While agents were speaking
with one staff
volunteer, another began making telephone calls in an
effort to contact
legal counsel. After the agents left, volunteers
discussed the court order's
gag provision, and began recontacting the handful of
people who had already
been called, in order to make sure that the terms of
the court order would
not be violated before legal counsel had time to
appraise the situation.

Initial attempts were made to contain news of the
FBI/Secret Service visit;
however, a few details of the story were soon leaked
via a partially
accurate report broadcast on the Vermont IMC internet
radio stream. Soon the
Seattle IMC was flooded with phone calls requesting
information about what
quickly began to be described as an "FBI raid," and
speculations began to
spread rapidly across the open-publishing newswires of
various IMCs.

For about three hours, a network of IMC technology
volunteers attempted to
comply with the court order by removing such posts
from the Seattle IMC and
other major IMC sites as they appeared. This had the
unfortunate effect of
seemingly confirming the worst suspicions of
independent journalists who
posted brief articles announcing or speculating about
mysterious and
terrible things going on at the Seattle IMC, then
finding their posts
removed from view minutes later. Volunteers called off
this clumsy attempt
at rumor control around midnight, when it became clear
that removing of
posts was only serving to fan the flames of rumor, and
that in any case the
story had already spread beyond the confines of the IMC
network. In acting
to remove these posts, IMC volunteers were motivated by
fear of violating
the court order's gag provision even before legal
counsel had had a chance
to review the document. We regret the feelings of
confusion and
disempowerment which many users of the IMC sites
experienced due to Saturday
night's blackout of postings on this topic, and the
general frustration
caused by the gag order.

Since the incident occurred, several persistent, yet
false, rumors have
taken shape; some of these found their way into
coverage published in
Monday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other
commercial media. We can now
dispel some of the more common of these: No search
warrant was served on IMC
in connection with the court order, and nobody
connected to the Seattle IMC
has been arrested. No equipment or logs have been
seized; the agents' visit
was not a "raid."

Now, free from restrictive court orders, the Seattle
IMC will be able to
cover this important story as it continues to unfold.

The Seattle Independent Media Center was launched in
Fall 1999 to provide
immediate, authentic, grassroots coverage of protests
against the WTO. Just
a year and a half later, the IMC network has reached
around the world, with
dozens of sites scattered across six continents. IMCs
are autonomously
organized and administered, but share collective
organizational principles
and certain technological resources. Each IMC's news
coverage centers upon
its open-publishing newswire, an innovative and
democratizing system
allowing anyone with access to an Internet connection
to become a
journalist, reporting on events from his or her own
perspective rather than
being forced to rely on the narrow range of views
presented by
corporate-owned mainstream media sources.

During last weekend's widespread protests against a
proposed Free Trade Area
of the Americas, many IMC sites collaborated to produce
coverage of demonstrations taking place in Quebec City
and Sao Paulo, as
well as solidarity protests in cities across the U.S.
and along the Mexican
and Canadian borders. The breadth and depth of coverage
produced by the
IMC's global network eclipsed that of many corporate
media outlets.

The Seattle IMC remains committed to its mission: "The
Independent Media
Center is a grassroots organization committed to using
media production and
distribution as a tool for promoting social and
economic justice. It is our
goal to further the self-determination of people under-
represented in media
production and content, and to illuminate and analyze
local and global
issues that impact ecosystems, communities and
individuals. We seek to
generate alternatives to the biases inherent in the
corporate media
controlled by profit, and to identify and create
positive models for a
sustainable and equitable society."


Seattle Independent Media Center
1415 3rd Ave.
Seattle, WA, 98101
206.262.9905 fax

David Burman, IMC counsel
Perkins Coie LLP
1201 Third Ave., 40th Floor
Seattle, WA 98101

Alan Korn, General Counsel

David Sobel, General Counsel
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Suite 200, 1718 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Nancy Chang, Senior Litigation Attorney
Center for Constitutional Rights
666 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10012

Lee Tien, Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
454 Shotwell Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Press Conference Audio will be Streamed Live 30.Apr.2001 22:17

pdxindyaudio pdxindyaudio@ziplip.com

Press Conference: Friday April 27, 1pm PDT.
Live Audio by Black Ball Radio, Seattle

For live streaming audio (MP3 format) from the Seattle-IMC's Press Conference, regarding the sequence of events over the weekend which a federal gag order prevented them from reporting on, visit Black Ball Radio at:

Ooops. Maybe not. 30.Apr.2001 22:20


There is no direct link to the Press Conference audio on Black Ball. I'm sure if you listen to their webcast long enough, it will turn up. If you have all night.

That will teach me to post before I verify. Let this be a lesson to you all...look before you leap.