Indymedia server seizure 'may have breached RIPA'

UK law enforcement agencies had no involvement in the seizure of the media network's London-based servers, says the government, raising the question of who in fact issued the court order

The government has denied any UK law enforcement involvement in the seizure of servers belonging to alternative media network Indymedia last week -- adding to the confusion about who did.

Around 20 Indymedia Web sites were taken down when two of its servers were removed from hosting provider Rackspace's Heathrow offices in London last week.

Initially it was claimed to be the work of the FBI using an joint Italian-Swiss court order but the FBI later denied any involvement. To date, all Rackspace has said is it handed over the servers after being served a court order and that a legal gag prevents it commenting further on the matter.

Concerned by the execution of a foreign court order on UK soil, Liberal Democrat IT spokesman Richard Allan MP tabled a parliamentary question asking what the Home Office's involvement was.

In a written response, home office minister Caroline Flint said she did not believe it necessary to make a statement to the House of Commons and would only reply: "I can confirm that no UK law enforcement agencies were involved."

In the meantime Indymedia has had the servers returned and is conducting its own investigation to find out if any sensitive data has been taken or compromised. It claims emails to lawyers relating to a forthcoming trial in Italy were stored on the disks.

Allan said that if this is true then the seizure may have breached the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which governs the interception of communications.

"In the UK, interception warrants are intelligence gathering tools. RIPA prohibits material derived from interception warrants being adduced as evidence in court," he said. "If emails have been intercepted outside this legal process then a serious criminal offence may have been committed. This may depend on whether the seizure of disks containing emails is considered to be 'interception' as opposed to pulling them off the wires as they are being transmitted."

One theory put forward at the moment is that the Italian authorities served a subpoena on Rackspace's head office in the US using the bilateral Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and that Rackspace then handed over the servers from its London hosting centre.

Rackspace did not respond to requests for comment.