FBI/DHS Attempt to Seize Colorado Indymedia Server and Silence Our Users
UPDATE JULY 09 2012: Some public records requests were made about this investigation and have been posted to http://colorado.indymedia.org/no...
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.
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.
From: Kowalski, Adam J <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 4:16 PM
Subject: Request for information on Open Media Foundation server / Colorado Indymedia
Cc: Tony@openmediafoundation.org, "Kowalski, Adam" <Adam.Kowalski@ic.fbi.gov
To: Open Media Foundation Executive Director Tony Sawcross [sic] and Business and
Finance Director Jeff Villano
Pursuant to our discussion today, the Colorado Indymedia organization, as found at http://colorado.indymedia.org/, and/or IP address 18.104.22.168, is utilizing an Open Media Foundation computer server maintained on the premises of 700 Kalamath Street in Denver, Colorado to host its webpage.
Through my discussions with you today, it is your belief that Open Media Foundation representatives are unable to obtain any of the information described below on the applicable Open Media Foundation server and that only representatives of Colorado Indymedia are able to access the requested information.
In order to minimize any adverse impact this request for information may have on either organization, I request that the organization able to access the requested information be identified as soon as practicable to receive the appropriate legal process for release of the requested information.
If the requested information is no longer available, I request that the responsible party issue a return correspondence noting the negative results of the search and identify the standard retention period that information of this type is typically retained.
Pursuant to an ongoing federal investigation, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Protective Service is seeking the following information, if available, as data files on CD-ROM or other electronic media or facsimile:
1. The following customer or subscriber account information for each account registered to or associated with the “spamsucks” screen name on Colorado Indymedia’s website for the time period May 17, 2010 through May 26, 2010:
1. subscriber names, user names, screen names, or other identities;
2. mailing addresses, residential addresses, business addresses, e-mail addresses and other contact information.
3. local and long distance telephone records, or records of session times and durations;
4. length of service (including start date) and types of service utilized;
5. telephone or instrument number or subscriber number or identity, including any temporally assigned network address; and
6. means and source of payment for such service (including any credit card or bank account number) and billing records.
2. All records and other information relating to the accounts(s) and time
period in Part A, including:
1. records of user activity for any connections made by the screen name, including the date, time, length, and method of connections, data transfer volume, user name, and source and destination Internet Protocol address(es);
2. telephone records, including local and long distance telephone connection records, caller identification records, cellular site and sector
information, GPS data, and cellular network identifying information (such as IMSI, MISISDN, IMEI, MEID, or ESN)
3. non-content information associated with the contents of any communication or file stored by or for the account(s), such as the source and destination email addresses and IP addresses.
4. correspondence and notes of records related to the account(s).
Again, thank you for your cooperation and timely response in this request.
Special Agent Adam Kowalski
This email is a response to the email sent by you to Tony Shawcross on Thursday June 17, 2010 as a representative of the Federal Protective Service of the Department of Homeland Security. That email requested that Colorado Indymedia disclose information related to the identity of persons who posted using the "spamsucks" user name during the period of May 17, 2010 through May 26, 2010. A copy of the original message is included below this reply.
Colorado Indymedia does not retain any personally identifying information, such as IP addresses or telephone numbers, of any of our site's users. IP addresses
associated with user names are never logged, and web server logs are discarded after 48 hours. Because of this, we do not possess the information sought by the DHS, et al.
Colorado Indymedia does not retain this 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.
The "spamsucks" account was created to preserve this anonymity after we experienced a surge in anonymous spam articles and comments which forced us to temporarily disable the ability of user to post in a truly anonymous fashion. It is used by multiple individuals - both the "spamsucks" username and its password are publicly available at
Colorado Indymedia is a collective, and as such decisions about its policies are made by consensus amongst all of its members. However, if you have any future questions about our website, you may contact me directly by emails at
email@example.com or by phone at 303.807.0086.
Yours in solidarity,
On behalf of the Colorado Independent Media Center collective