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Who’s been surfing where? The government wants to know

Submitted by on Tuesday, 10 November 2009 4 Comments

It’s almost unfortunate that indymedia.us routinely destroys its server logs after five weeks and, as a result, couldn’t comply with a Justice Department subpoena that tried to force the organization to reveal everything it knew about every visitor on June 25, 2008.

Unfortunate because this is the feds’ second attempt in just a few months to dig deep into a Web site to see who’s saying what about whom, and this issue needs settled one way or another. That’s a scary thought, because it well could be settled the wrong way and the government would have the authority to demand that any site anywhere in the country turn over records about any of us. But at least it would be settled and we’d all know the rules of the game.

Technically speaking, the indymedia subpoena was the first fishing expedition – it just recently became public, though.

The “shoot a house fly with an Uzi approach” is similar in both cases, though: Provide the visitor’s name, physical address, any nicknames, ISP, IP address, email addresses, any credit card or bank account numbers used to pay for services, driver’s license number, date of birth and Social Security number. It’s unclear why they didn’t ask for bra sizes as well – perhaps they felt that would be intrusive.

First of all, did the feds even check the site’s comment form? It requires title (how quaint), name and comment. Everything else – Web site, email, phone number, address – is optional. You can join listserves, but they require only an email address and name. No where am I seeing the ability to create subscriber accounts, though there is a link, not working at the moment, to allow you to publish articles. I’m betting it doesn’t require Social Security numbers or credit card information, thought.

It’s not the first time the feds have taken a deep and abiding interest in indymedia. Back in 2004, the U.S. government convinced a British company to take down indymedia servers that handled traffic for a number of countries. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting says that action was at the behest of Swiss authorities, though all parties in this true World Wide Web deny that.

Other attempts stateside to obtain indymedia server records over the years have failed, generally because the hosts or ISPs have refused.

If there is a genuine legal issue or criminal matter here, then, by all means, the Justice Department should investigate it.

But absent anyone official willing to have an honest discussion about that those issues might be – and, no, a site covering protesters at international summits is not a crime – the repeated subpoenas appear to be nothing more than harassment.

And now officials are trying to extend that harassment to anyone who visited an indymedia site on a certain day.


Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

Disclosure: I visited the indymedia site tonight between roughly 9:08 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. My bra size is 32A. My checking account number is …  never mind. Those records are even more embarrassing than my bra size.

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  • Lisa said:

    Actually, this just happened here in IL. The ISP was forced to name who left an anonymous comment of a newspaper site even though the anonymous person sued to stay anonymous.

  • Debra said:

    I wasn’t aware of the one in Illinois, Lisa. I’m going to have to look that one up. I could see the anonymity being broken if the comment was libelous or illegal. But if it’s just someone griping about the government … that bugs me.

  • Lisa said:

    It was because the anonymous commenter said something about a polician’s kid. She (the politician) wants to sue the anonymous commenter.

  • Debra said:

    I think I found the case, and I still can’t decide. The comments in question have been removed from the story, so I can’t tell if they merely ticked off the politician (which wouldn’t be libel) or if there were false statements (possibly libel but still no guarantee.)