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Should the FBI Have Shut Down a Whole Email Server Over Bomb Threats?

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"...an attack against all users of the Internet who depend on anonymous communication..."

Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized an email server in an effort to find the sender of bomb threats to the University of Pittsburgh, but the seizure itself has raised some red flags.

(Related: University of Pittsburg rocked by dozens of bomb threats)

Wired's Threat Level, a blog on the tech website that focuses on privacy, crime and online security, reported the server was called Mixmaster and was used by groups who wanted to anonymize their messages. More specifically, Wired reported human rights groups, such as Riseup Networks and May First/People Link, used this server to prevent emails from being traced back to them. The server itself was operated by an ISP based in Europe.

What has some groups like Riseup peeved about the server's takedown is the approach the feds used. The FBI did have a warrant to do so, but Riseup described in a statement that the FBI used a "sledgehammer approach" that shutdown not only whoever sent the bomb threats but also anyone else who relied on that server for communication. The statement called it "an attack on anonymous speech."

“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 the statement.

Devin Theriot-Orr, a spokesperson for Riseup, called it a "particularly misguided" move as "there is unlikely to be any information on the server regarding the source of the threatening emails" due to the fact the server itself is set up to prevent tracing emails back to senders.

While Theroit-Orr said said the organization sympathized with the situation the university was faced, the seizure of the server itself has only resulted in disruption of the email and websites of "thousands of unrelated people."

In the statement, the groups described that remailers such as this server are important for protecting "corporate whistle blowers, democracy activists working under repressive regimes, and others to communicate vital information that would otherwise go unreported."

The groups wrote they believe the FBI was "grasping at straws" with this seizure, stating the agency may have felt they had to show they were taking some action in the case, even at the risk of others.

Wired contacted the FBI for comment but the agency had not responded.

The Associated Press reported the university had received dozens of threats during the last two months. It stated some were received through the media while others were as physical writing on building walls. The most recent threat reported by AP was on Thursday.

[H/T Daily Caller]

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