May First/People Link's leadership has been under a Federal gag order since early September. The gag order prevented us from discussing a subpoena for member information and the existence of the gag order itself. As of today, that gag order has expired.
The gag order protected a subpoena that was issued by the Department of Justice on September 5, 2014, which demanded account information about the Athens (Greece) Indymedia Center membership. Apparently, the target of the investigation was a member of an organization wanted by the Greek law enforcement who is believed to have used the Indymedia website at one point.
On the request of the Athens IMC, we refused to release personally identifying information to the department of justice to shield members of the Athens IMC from political persecution in Greece. We then publicly announced the existence of the subpoena to our membership and posted that information on our website.
Two weeks later, we were served with the gag order forbidding us from talking about the subpeona and forbidding us from even acknowledging to anyone outside our Leadership Committee that the order existed. We were to act as if nothing had happened.
We were informed that any violation of this order could result in fines and imprisonment, which could have destroyed the organization.
Under the advice of our lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation we obeyed the order.
Because the order has now expired, we want to comment on two issues arising from this episode that we consider important.
First, May First/People Link has always espoused the principle that the release of member data is a violation of our members' right to privacy: a fundamental human right and one that protects the ability of our members to engage in activism and political organizing. It is at the crux of our
responsibility as an organization. We do not cooperate with government intrusions unless the specific affected members agree to such cooperation. It is this policy that guides our actions.
In the case of the Athens IMC, we had no data of any real value to this investigation and that fact makes our second concern even deeper.
Hitting us with an order that forbids us from speaking about a government demand for our members' information and then forbids us from publicly acknowledging that there is such a demand is grotesquely
repressive and damaging to our organization's members and their right to information about their data and their organization.
We believe you have the right to privacy and to withhold from any investigation information you may have that is legally obtained and legal in and of itself. We believe you have the right tell others that the government is investigating you or demanding that kind of information from you. Moreover, we believe you have the right to tell others when the government forbids you from revealing information about its demands.
These rights are particularly precious at a time when people the world over are fighting for our freedom and opposing government repression and brutality. No repressive act can be hidden and no injustice will go unopposed when there is a truly open and free Internet.
Protecting and broadening that free Internet is our mission as an organization. Facilitating, defending and protecting our members' data and their ability to function as activist organizations is at the very core of that mission.
We continue committed to that mission.
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