May First/People Link leadership committee member Alfredo Lopez talks about the web hosting co-operative in this video

Web Host Complies with University of Pittsburgh Bomb Threat Investigation

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Web hosting co-op May First/People Link has complied with a request from the FBI to search a server it believes to be the source of three bomb threats to the University of Pittsburgh, a report on Tuesday by Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says.

The University of Pittsburgh has been the recipient of bomb threats for two months and the threats have spread to other schools in the area as well, a report by the Wall Street Journal says. The threats to the university were initially written on bathroom stalls, but have been emailed to reporters at local newspapers more recently.

May First/People Link is an interesting and certainly unique concept in web hosting. Members of the organization pool resources, and pay yearly dues to access its hosting infrastructure. The co-op hosting provider has fewer than 1000 members, and its network consists of 100 virtual servers in five different geographic locations, though most services are housed in two colocation centers in New York City. A proponent of free speech on the Internet, May First/People Link is a social justice organization that says its main concern is not profit, but the stability, security, reliability and future of its movement’s infrastructure.

Jamie McClelland, co-director of May First/People Link, complied with the federal subpoena for information on its servers last week, but he says since the organization was formed in part to allow people to use the Internet anonymously, its servers likely do not have information useful to the FBI, the report says. The FBI has declined to comment.

This can be a difficult situation for a web hosting provider as it has signed a contract with its clients to protect their privacy, but also has to comply with federal investigations to some extent.

According to the report, whoever was responsible for sending the threats used a service provided by a May First/People Link member, an anonymous remailer, that makes emails hard to trace.

A report on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that the IP address on the emails was assigned to ECN, an Internet provider in Italy that runs a server that sends anonymous emails.

The organization said that most of its membership oppose “that type of activity” and the FBI’s involvement puts its organization and its members in “severe jeopardy.”

Seamus Johnston, 22, and Katherine Anne McCloskey, 55, have been called to testify before a grand jury on Tuesday. The couple believes the university gave its names to the FBI because of an ongoing legal dispute Johnston has with the university, and denies any involvement in the bomb threats, several reports on Tuesday claim.

Talk back: What do you think of May First/People Link’s mantra? Have you ever had to comply with a federal investigation? Let us know your thoughts in a comment.

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