Web Server Takedown Called Speech Threat

Devin Theriot-Orr, a member a feisty group of reporter-activists called Indymedia, was surprised when two FBI agents showed up at his Seattle law office, saying the visit was a "courtesy call" on behalf of Swiss authorities.

Theriot-Orr was even more surprised a week later when more than 20 Indymedia Web sites were knocked offline as the computer servers that hosted them were seized in Britain.

The Independent Media Center, more commonly known as Indymedia, says the seizure is tantamount to censorship, and civil libertarians agree. The Internet is a publishing medium just like a printing press, they argue, and governments have no right to remove Web sites.

"The implications are profound," said Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites), calling the Indymedia activists "classic dissenters" and likening the case to "seizing a printing press or shutting down a radio transmitter. It smells to high heaven," he said.

"The significance of this is that apparently, a foreign government, based on a secret process, can have the U.S. government silence independent news sources without ever having to answer to the American people about how that kind of restraint could happen," said Keith Bankston, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which drafted the motion. "Every press organization should be asking, 'Am I next?'"

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News source: Associated Press

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