The Indymedia network has reported today that its Bristol site is no more, after police forced access to its users' IP records as part of a search for the individual or group behind a string of politicised arsons in the area.
The person/people which have claimed responsibility for this bundle of burnings against targets in and around Bristol refer to themselves as the Informal Anarchist Federation/Earth Liberation Front (no relation to the International Anarchist Federation, which has publicly asked that they rename themselves to something which doesn’t risk getting non-participants harassed) and have been active for several years in the area. They have been known to comment on Bristol Indymedia, which acts as an open media platform for the local movement, as part of their campaign.
Whoever is behind it has consistently showed up police, their most famous action seeing the destruction of a firearms range in May which led to them becoming a national news item. The Daily Mail leapt on the story, deciding it was probably an individual who they distastefully dubbed the "Bristol Unabomber," and hammered the police for not making an arrest.
In June police chiefs duly appeased Mail editor Paul Dacre by picking up a 32-year-old man in connection with the actions, though as Class War blogger Ian Bone noted at the time, the almost immediate release on bail of their supposed main suspect was somewhat puzzling, given the crime.
The arsons however continued, with the IAF/ELF claiming responsibility for a string of attcks on Glebe Road on July 1st and denying any connection to the arrested man.
So this is the background to the situation. A humiliated police force under pressure from an influential paper is looking for a way to get itself out of a hole. And to do so it’s making it impossible for an independent news site that has regularly criticised it to keep going.
I considered putting this up as a news article, but I think it's important that the broader issues at hand be spelled out. This is a case of the police force using its radically-extended online powers to deny a media organisation the right to protect its sources and contributors.
The equivalent in newspaper terms would be a raid seizing the contacts of every journalist on staff - something that would have every media organisation on the planet decrying what would rightly be called a State attack on free speech. Some of the most important journalism ever undertaken has involved protecting sources (journalists have gone to jail to protest this principle), and while there the police have the legal right to demand specific sources in the cause of national security or preventing crime, this is step change from seizing every single contact and potentially the names of every critic of the force.
This Bristol server invasion is just the latest episode in an ongoing expansion of the concept of “terror” (which is the fundamental driver behind otherwise ludicrous comparisons of arsons against empty properties to the deliberately fatal letterbomb attacks attributed to Ted Kaczynsky) to embrace all forms of effective dissent and justify chilling State interventions against any group deemed to be linked, even tangentially, to political direct action.
Regardless of any personal feelings about the use of arson as a political weapon by small cells*, police should not have the leeway to simply demand open access to the files of any media group. Even in liberal parlance this is a direct path to malpractice and the evisceration of the fourth estate, with a rampant thin blue line doing whatever it wants then citing operational need whenever it fancies silencing its critics.
In more radical circles, this is another proof of a creed which should by now be second nature – put nothing online that you either don’t mind being linked to, or can be 100% sure won’t be traced.
* The subject is sometimes debated in anarchist circles, You can't blow up a social relationship has some strong criticisms of this sort of activity from an anarchist perspective for example