The FBI has seized a server used by an anonymous remailing service provider and several progressive service organizations as part of an ongoing investigation into anonymous bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh — a move which has reportedly drawn criticism from digital anonymity advocates.
The server was seized Wednesday from a co-location facility located in New York after FBI officials presented a warrant, Wired‘s Kim Zetter wrote on Friday. The server was used by Mixmaster, a remailing service which Zetter says “helps human rights activists and others prevent their communications from being traced to them,” as well as Riseup Networks and May First/People Link.
The move was made “in an effort to uncover the source” of the bomb threats, according to Wired, and the seizure affected more than 300 email accounts, as many has 80 email lists, and multiple websites, none of which have been linked in any way to the University of Pittsburgh bomb threats, Riseup said in a Thursday press release.
“The server seizure is not only an attack against us, but an attack against all users of the Internet who depend on anonymous communication,” May First/People Link director Jamie McClelland said in a statement.
“The FBI is using a sledgehammer approach, shutting down service to hundreds of users due to the actions of one anonymous person,” added Riseup spokesman Devin Theriot-Orr. “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.”
In addition, Forbes Staff Writer Andy Greenberg said that the FBI has allegedly seized the computers of a couple who are also being questioned as part of the investigation.
Greenberg also says that McClelland has denied previous Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the server seized Wednesday, which was operated by Italian ISP European Counter Network (ECN), had been “hijacked” by the user who sent the anonymous bomb threats.
Both Greenberg and Jeremy Kirk of IDG News Service attempted to contact FBI officials for comment, but neither had received a response as of their respective press times.
Regarding the investigation into the bomb threats, earlier this month David J. Hickton, United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, released a statement saying that, “The safety and welfare of the University of Pittsburgh community is a top priority” and that the incidents, which started on February 13, were “being vigorously, aggressively and thoroughly investigated through every possible means.”
“The Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes the University of Pittsburgh Police as a productive, contributing member, is actively pursuing the source or sources of these threats,” Hickton said. “While the disruption and fear engendered by such threats is unconscionable, we commend the resilience of the University community. The University of Pittsburgh is exercising appropriate regard for safety, through its notification system and through evacuations when threats are received and evaluated, while refusing to allow such threats to paralyze the entire University community in its pursuit of learning and teaching.”