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Gag Order Lifted; IMC in Free Speech Battle Following FBI/Secret Service Visit

This is an official announcement from the Seattle IMC Spokescouncil
On the evening of Saturday, April 21, a day which saw tens of thousands demonstrate 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 contents; 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 ( HYPERLINK "" , 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 Bush travel plans.

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 to the 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 comprehensive 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."


Text of Gag Order

by Mike Lehman 5:19pm Fri Apr 27 '01

STEPHEN C SCHROEDER Assistant United States Attorney

address: 800 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3600 Seattle, Washington 98104 phone: (206) 553-7970


THIS MATTER having come before the Court pursuant to the Application of the United States of America, which Application requests that an Order be issued:

(1) directing that INDEPENDENT MEDIA, and any other provider of electronic communications service and their agents and employees, not disclose to the user of said electronic communication service, nor to any other person, the existence of this Application and Order or the existence of this investigation unless and until otherwise ordered by the Court;

(2) directing INDEPENDENT MEDIA, a provider of electronic communications service, as defined by Title 18, United States Code, Section 2510(15), to examine all account records and system/accounting log files and supply the Federal Bureau of Investigation with all Information listed on Attachment A to this Order; and (3) directing that the Application and Court's Order be sealed;

IT APPEARING that there is an ongoing criminal investigation into acts which would constitute violations of Sections 322 (theft) and 430 (mischief) of the Criminal Code of Canada, and that one or more of the subjects of said investigation are unknown, and

IT APPEARING that Independent Media is an Internet publisher of information, administered by Jonathon Jay at 1415 3rd Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98101, and

IT APPEARING that the Application has been made in good faith in the @erance of a pending criminal investigation, and the Court finding that the Applicant, as the attorney for the United States, has offered specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records of electronic communication sought are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.

IT APPEARING that there is reason to believe that notification of the existence of this Order will result in destruction of or tampering with evidence, or will otherwise seriously jeopardize the investigation,

IT IS ORDERED, pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, Section 2703(c) and (d);Title 28, United States Code, Section 1651; and Rule 41, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, that INDEPENDENT MEDIA, 1415 3rd Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98101, a provider of electronic communications service, as defined by Title 18, United States Code, Section 2510(15) examine all account and system/accounting log files and supply the Federal Bureau of Investigation with all information described in Attachment A to this Order.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, Section 5(b), that INDEPENDENT MEDIA, and their agents and employees, shall not disclose to the user of electronic communication service, nor to any other person, the existence of this Application or Order, or the existence of this investigation, unless and until otherwise ordered by the Court; and

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 1651 that this Order and the Application be sealed until otherwise ordered by the Court.

DATED this 24 day of April 2001.

STEPHEN C SCHROEDER Assistant United States Attorney


Seafirst Fifth Avenue Plaza Building

800 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3600

Seattle, Washington 98104

(206) 553-7970


All user connection logs for for the time period beginning April 20, 2001, to the date of this Order for any connections to or from that IP address.

User connection logs should contain the following:

1. Connection time and date;

2. Disconnect time and date;

3. Method of connection to system (e.g., SLIP, PPP, Shell);

4. Data transfer volume (e.g., bytes);

5. Connection information for other systems to which user connected via , including:

a. Connection destination;

b. Connection time and date;

c. Disconnect time and date;

d. Method of connection to/from system (e.g., telnet, ftp, http);

e. Data transfer volume (e.g., bytes);




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