The Indymedia hardware seized in London last week were put back in place over the last 24 hours, but their return puts the UK Home Office even more on the spot. The original hard disks, apparently with the original data, have been returned, which suggests strongly that the authorities wanted sight of information that is on them.
Who these authorities are remains as open a question as what they wanted to see, but given the convoluted nature of the seizure process (the FBI apparently acting under a US-UK treaty on behalf of Switzerland and/or Italy to seize hardware in London), the British Home Office must surely have been presented with at least a flimsy pretext for its approval of the operation.
Further mystery is added by the circumstances of the return. Rackspace, the hosting company involved, alerted Indymedia to their return yesterday morning, saying: "I was just told that the court order is being complied with and your servers in London will be online at 5pm GMT." But what court order? And why is being complied with? The Orwellian nature of the powers likely to have been used in the case severely restrict Rackspace's ability to tell its customer, or anybody else, what's going on, and can also be used (on US request) to bind the Home Office to confidentiality. Not that any compulsion is usually necessary here.
Although the data on the drives appears intact, Indymedia is treating them as potentially compromised, and won't boot them or take the servers live until they've been verified. Depending on what was done to them when they were in the hands of, er, whoever, there may be some slight chance that the verification will throw up some clues. And if information was being sought as evidence in a pending court case, then information on how this evidence was obtained and by what process will also have to be produced. If the process turns out not to have been one that would be accepted by a court, then it will be likely that direct evidence-gathering was not the intent. Which would raise even more questions about the validity of the use of an MLAT, and the Home Office's involvement in it.
Richard Allan, Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam, has tabled a Parliamentary question to the Home Office asking David Blunkett "what recent discussions he has had with US law enforcement agencies concerning the seizure of material from UK-based internet hosting providers; and if he will make a statement." This is to be dealt with tomorrow. MPs in the National Union of Journalists' Parliamentary Group are also tabling questions. ®