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FBI asks for info on Colorado Indymedia user after vandalism at ICE facilities

Categories: Media

tony shawcross photo.jpg
Tony Shawcross.
Colorado Indymedia is a news outlet that's dedicated to fighting the power. And the organization did so last week, when the FBI asked for IP information about the anonymous person who posted info about vandalism at two Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices. Colorado Indymedia didn't hand over this info, because it couldn't do so -- by design.

Providing background on the story is Tony Shawcross of Open Media Foundation, which hosts the Colorado Indymedia server.

According to Shawcross, the story began with the posting of two pieces on the Colorado Indymedia site in May. The first, published May 17 under the headline "ICE Office Attacked," is a mere snippet. It reads:

The entrance to an undisclosed/pseudo-secret ICE office in downtown Colorado Springs was attacked Saturday night. The office, ironically, is located within a bank building. No Deportations! No Borders!

The second, from May 27, is longer and more detailed. Its headline is "ICE Facility Attacked in Loveland:"

Over the weekend of the 15th of May, an ICE field office in Loveland, Colorado was attacked. Every window and door was shattered, totaling around twelve panes in all.

The unmarked facility is one of many such hidden ICE buildings in the U.S. that attempt to operate in secrecy. One tactic used by ICE to maintain this secrecy is to take people from their homes in the middle of the night to be "processed" before taken to privately-owned ICE prisons.

By operating in secrecy, ICE is able to maintain this particular sub-station within a shopping and residential district without revealing the repression used to create and sustain borders.

This action was taken in the climate typified by SB1070 in Arizona and local anti-immigrant sentiment. However, the ICE office would have been targeted regardless of legislation.

Resistance and attacks against manifestations of borders, prison and power will continue as long as families are separated and people are imprisoned, deported, and harassed.

As others have said-

NO DEPORTATIONS!!! NO BORDERS!!

Solidarity means attack.

Cut to earlier this month, when an FBI agent appeared at the Open Media Foundation's door. Shawcross was out of town, but OMF's Jeff Villano was present. Turns out the agent had a warrant to request the IP information -- and if it wasn't forthcoming, he could seize the server, which would effectively have taken the entire site offline.

Even if the feds have taken the latter course, however, it wouldn't have helped, as Shawcross explains.

"Jeff called me, and I informed the FBI agent that it's the policy of the IMC to set up their servers to never record any IP addresses, and never to store that information."

From Shawcross's perspective, the FBI rep with whom he spoke didn't push this issue. "He said he didn't want to take the server. He just wanted the information, or for me to give him confirmation that the settings on the server were set up in a way that the IP addresses definitely didn't exist on it -- and if I gave him that, he'd take my word for it."

From there, Shawcross understands that representatives of Colorado Indymedia, who have not responded to numerous interview requests at this writing, consulted the American Civil Liberties Union to decide what to do next. In the end, Shawcross says, "they gave the FBI a letter telling them the information is not on the server. Hopefully, that will be the end of it."

If so, it'll be a relief to Shawcross. "I'm glad we aren't in the position of being between free speech and the FBI," he allows.

A piece on the Colorado Indymedia site about the incident stands in stark contrast to Shawcross's reaction. The far less trusting item speaks in detail about the alleged targeting of Colorado Indymedia by federal agents. "It seems likely that the government is upset that we provide a venue for anonymous speech and is retaliating for this," the author asserts.

The article is supplemented with e-mail exchanges between an FBI agent and a Colorado Indymedia representative. But here's the main text:

FBI/DHS Attempt to Seize Colorado Indymedia Server and Silence Our Users

On Jun 17, Colorado Indymedia was contacted by Special Agent Adam Kowalski of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)/Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As part of an "ongoing investigation" by Federal Protective Services, they attempted to seize the Colorado Indymedia server, believing that we kept logs (such as IP address access logs) that could identity users on our site. Our servers are graciously hosted at Denver Open Media who was approached by Kowalski. Kowalski claimed he had a court order but refused to leave a copy at Denver Open Media. He was told to contact the system administrators in order to obtain the logs as Denver Open Media does not have the ability to consent to a seizure or search of our property.

As of this date, we do not have a copy of the court order if it even exists. It's likely that this was just a bluff as it's well-established that cops, the FBI, and other law enforcement can lie in order to illicit consent and lying about court orders is no exception.

We told the FBI that "Colorado Indymedia does not retain this [identifying] information because we strongly believe in the First Amendment right to free, anonymous speech. Frequently communities outside of our society's mainstream feel more comfortable expressing their views in an anonymous setting. Like all Independent Media Centers, Colorado Indymedia exists to serve these communities, and thus strives to maintain the anonymity of its users."

In particular, the FBI was looking for information that would identify a user(s) who had used the "spamsucks" account. This account's username and password are posted on the main page of our site for users who would like to post and remain anonymous. Given the time period of the logs they were seeking, we believe they are looking to identify the individual(s) who posted the two communiques that claimed responsibility for the recent attacks on Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) offices. (See "ICE Facility Attacked in Loveland" http://colorado.indymedia.org/no... and "ICE Office Attacked" http://colorado.indymedia.org/no...).

This request is part of an investigation by Federal Protective Services, the agency which is tasked with protecting the security of Federal property (such as buildings). Communiques posted by the same account claiming direct action attacks against other places such as a Wells Fargo branch (http://colorado.indymedia.org/no...) have not attracted similar reactions from the agency. It appears as if the ICE attacks prompted additional attention and heat due to their status as Federal buildings even though the attack on the Wells Fargo branch seems related to their funding of private ICE prisons through the GEO Group.

While this may look to many as a run-of-the-mill investigation, there are several things that bring this into question. Firstly, it is a well known and widely publicized policy of Colorado Indymedia that we do not retain logs that can identify individual users. For instance, our privacy policy (http://colorado.indymedia.org/no...), which is linked to twice from our main page, notes that we do not log such information. The FBI is well aware of this policy but still decided to ask us for logs they know we do not keep. This could be a simple "fill in the box" task that has to be completed, but then why not approach DOM's Internet service provider, which almost certainly does retain logs of this nature (as all major Internet Service Providers and the NSA do)? Additionally, the FBI seemed intent on seizing our server when they came to Denver Open Media, indicating their goal may have been the disruption of our service instead of simply identifying users.

Given this, it seems likely that the government is upset that we provide a venue for anonymous speech and is retaliating for this. We allow people who ordinarily cannot speak to tell their story to the world including those who took credit for smashing up the ICE offices. In any democratic society, it's important that all members of society can have as much available information in order to make informed decisions, including decisions about whether to support the actions that these communiques discuss. If places like COIMC did not exist, it could be that nobody would have heard why this office was attacked and people would be forced to make evaluations based on coverage from mainstream media outlets who act as a police mouthpiece. In retaliation for providing this service and working to give everybody a voice, we have been targeted.

This targeting is no surprise and something we expect from law enforcement. Police are a tool of those who are in power who use them to maintain that power through force. Behind every law is a charge, behind every badge is a gun, and behind every subpoena is the possibility of being kidnapped and held hostage for contempt. This type of targeting is done every day against those who assert their right to privacy, who do not have societal privilege, who lack the money to defend themselves in court or conform to society's norms, and who choose to defy and change those norms themselves or challenge the power structures that control society. We are not treated differently than anybody else and the targeting of Colorado Indymedia is business as usual. If the Department of Justice had their way (based on their actions and lobbying efforts), the right to anonymous speech would completely disappear. The services that we provide are a critical part of fostering social change and democratic discourse in this region. For this reason and many others we will not be intimidated into maintaining investigative records on our own users or shutting down our service. As far as we know, we are the only media outlet that has provided coverage on the attacks against ICE offices.

It's important when things like this happen we not internalize this repression and that we let people know we are being bullied. The majority of a bully's power is derived from their ability to keep their victim's silent. This is true whether those bullies are police, rapists, the bully who steals your lunch money, or an abusive parent. This enforced silence keeps the victim feeling powerless and alone. When we are silent, we cannot find others who have faced the same treatment and speak out about it or fight back. Police are a tool of those in power which they use to enforce their rules, laws, social codes, and ultimately maintain their place at the top of the hierarchy. They do not want to hear about people challenging their authority. Most of all, they want to make sure that nobody sees or hears about those actions and chooses to support those individuals or becomes inspired to challenge authority on their own.

You may view our privacy policy at http://colorado.indymedia.org/no... which contractually binds us to protect your information. We would like to thank Denver Open Media (http://denveropenmedia.org) for continuing to host our server and recognizing the importance of the service we provide. We continue to look for people who are willing to help with website/server administration, moderation, legal problems, and other things. Please see http://colorado.indymedia.org/no... for more information.


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