Previously secret court documents that are now public provide an unusual glimpse into how the federal government gained access to the server of an independent news site.
In October 2004, a federal prosecutor sent a subpoena to Rackspace Managed Hosting of San Antonio, Texas, as part of an investigation underway in Italy into an attempted murder. Under a mutual legal assistance treaty, the U.S. government is required to help other nations secure evidence in certain criminal cases.
The newly disclosed subpoena, which has been partially redacted, asks only for specific "log files."
But Rackspace turned over the entire hard drive at the time, taking the server offline and effectively pulling the plug on more than 20 Independent Media Center Web sites for about a week.
Rackspace claimed at the time that the subpoena required the company to turn over the customer's "hardware."
Now that the documents have been unsealed by a federal judge in Texas, though, Rackspace is backpedalling. "A Rackspace employee mistakenly used the word 'hardware' to describe the contents of a federal order," company spokeswoman Annalie Drusch said in an e-mail message to CNET News.com on Tuesday.
Drusch's e-mail also said: "Rackspace employees searched for the specific information requested in the subpoena but were unable to locate this information prior to the strict delivery deadline imposed by the FBI. In order to comply with the mandated deadline, Rackspace delivered copied drives to the FBI. Shortly thereafter, Rackspace succeeded in isolating and extracting the relevant files responsive to the subpoena and immediately asked that the drives be returned by the FBI. The FBI returned the drives, and it was our understanding that at no time had they been reviewed by the FBI. The relevant files were then delivered to the FBI."
Kurt Opsahl, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that Rackspace handed over far more than was legally necessary. EFF is representing the Indymedia collective and won the release of the secret court documents.
"It would be like getting a subpoena for one document in a warehouse of documents--and instead of turning over that document, they turned over the entire warehouse," Opsahl said.