ECN server seized by FBI

Original press release

FBI seizes server providing anonymous remailer and many other services
from colocation facility.

Attack on Anonymous Speech

On Wednesday, April 18, at approximately 16:00 Eastern Time,
U.S. Federal authorities removed a server from a colocation facility
shared by Riseup Networks and May First/People Link in New York
City. The seized server was operated by the European Counter Network
(“ECN”), the oldest independent internet service provider in Europe,
who, among many other things, provided an anonymous remailer service,
Mixmaster, that was the target of an FBI investigation into the bomb
threats against the University of Pittsburgh.

“The company running the facility has confirmed that the server was
removed in conjunction with a search warrant issued by the FBI,” said
May First/People Link director Jamie McClelland. “The server seizure
is not only an attack against us, but an attack against all users of
the Internet who depend on anonymous communication.”

Disrupted in this seizure were academics, artists, historians,
feminist groups, gay rights groups, community centers, documentation
and software archives and free speech groups. The server included the
mailing list “cyber rights” (the oldest discussion list in Italy to
discuss this topic), a Mexican migrant solidarity group, and other
groups working to support indigenous groups and workers in Latin
America, the Caribbean and Africa. In total, over 300 email accounts,
between 50-80 email lists, and several other websites have been taken
off the Internet by this action. None are alleged to be involved in
the anonymous bomb threats.

“The FBI is using a sledgehammer approach, shutting down service to
hundreds of users due to the actions of one anonymous person,” said
Devin Theriot-Orr, a spokesperson for Riseup. “This is particularly
misguided because there is unlikely to be any information on the
server regarding the source of the threatening emails.”

“We sympathize with the University of Pittsburgh community who have
had to deal with this frightening disruption for weeks. We oppose such
threatening actions. However, taking this server won’t stop these bomb
threats. The only effect it has is to also disrupt e-mail and websites
for thousands of unrelated people,” continues
Mr. Theriot-Orr. “Furthermore, the network of anonymous remailers that
exists is not harmed by taking this machine. So we cannot help but
wonder why such drastic action was taken when authorities knew that
the server contained no useful information that would help in their

The FBI purportedly seized the server because it was hosting an
anonymous remailer called Mixmaster. Anonymous remailers are used to
send email anonymously, or pseudonymously. Like other anonymizing
services such as the Tor network, these remailers are widely used to
protect the identity of human rights activists who place themselves
and their families in grave danger by reporting information about
abuses. Remailers are also important for corporate whistle blowers,
democracy activists working under repressive regimes, and others to
communicate vital information that would otherwise go un-reported.

The Mixmaster software is specifically designed to make it impossible
for anyone to trace the emails. The system does not record logs of
connections, details of who sent messages, or how they were
routed. This is because the Mixmaster network is specifically designed
to resist censorship, and support privacy and
anonymity. Unfortunately, some people misuse the network. However,
compared to the rate of legitimate use, the abuse rate is very
low. There is therefore no legitimate purpose for the FBI to seize
this server because they will not be able to obtain any information
about the sender. This is plainly extra-judicial punishment and an
attack on free speech and anonymity on the internet and serves as a
chilling effect on others providers of anonymous remailers or other
anonymous services.

In absence of any other leads, the FBI needs to show that they are
making progress in this case, and this has meant seizing a server so
they can proudly demonstrate they are taking some action. But what
this incident shows is they are grasping at straws and are willing to
destroy innocent bystanders for the sake of protecting their careers.

About the organizations involved

MayFirst/People Link ( is a politically-progressive
member-run and controlled organization that redefines the concept of
“Internet Service Provider” in a collective and collaborative way. May
First/People Link’s members are organizers and activists who elect a
Leadership Committee to direct the organization. Like a coop, members
pay dues, buy equipment and then share that equipment for websites,
email, email lists, and other Internet purposes.

Riseup Networks ( provides online communication tools for
people and groups working on liberatory social change. Riseup creates
democratic alternatives and practices self-determination by
controlling our own secure means of communications.

ECN (European Counter Network – is the oldest independent
service provider in Europe providing free email accounts, mailing
lists, and websites to organizations, activists, and movements that
are involved in human rights, freedom of speech and information in
Italy and Europe. ECN is anti-fascist and works towards a just and
equal society. Years ago, before sites like Youtube and Vimeo existed,
ECN created a platform called NGV where people could upload and share
independent video of human rights violations. Nowadays ECN works
primarily with anti-fascist and anti-Nazi movements in all of Europe,
providing space and resources to political and social centers.

Questions / further reading¶

Q: Doesn’t Mixmaster/anonymous remailers enable criminals to do bad

A: Criminals can already do bad things. Since they’re willing to break
laws, they already have lots of options available that provide better
privacy than mixmaster provides. They can steal cell phones, use them,
and throw them in a ditch; they can crack into computers in Korea or
Brazil and use them to launch abusive activities; they can use
spyware, viruses, and other techniques to take control of literally
millions of Windows machines around the world.

Mixmaster aims to provide protection for ordinary people who want to
follow the law. Only criminals have privacy right now, and we need to
fix that.

Some advocates of anonymity explain that it’s just a tradeoff —
accepting the bad uses for the good ones — but there’s more to it than
that. Criminals and other bad people have the motivation to learn how
to get good anonymity, and many have the motivation to pay well to
achieve it. Being able to steal and reuse the identities of innocent
victims (identify theft) makes it even easier. Normal people, on the
other hand, don’t have the time or money to spend figuring out how to
get privacy online. This is the worst of all possible worlds.

So yes, criminals could in theory use mixmaster, but they already have
better options, and it seems unlikely that taking mixmaster away from
the world will stop them from doing bad things. At the same time,
mixmaster and other privacy measures can fight identity theft,
physical crimes like stalking, and so
on. (

Q: How does Mixmaster / Anonymous remailers work?

A: Anonymous remailers work by connecting to other anonymous remailers
in a chain, and every one in that chain removes the mail header
information making it impossible to find the real sender. The Tor
project maintains a list of typical users of this and other anonymity
systems, and the Mixmaster home page

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