The allegations against the news portal Linksunten are time-barred. The investigators failed to encrypt data carriers.
2016 the left-wing news portal linksunten.indymedia was banned and its media confiscated in an illegal raid. Since then, investigators have been trying to decrypt the hard drives. Due to a lack of success, the public prosecutor’s office dropped the proceedings – after five years.
This is how investigators proceed with encrypted media
After confiscation as part of a (house) search, IT forensic scientists create a bit-by-bit copy of all data carriers. This gives you a 1:1 image of all data and metadata. The data carriers themselves end up in the evidence room and are returned to the suspect after the proceedings have been discontinued or ended. In the Linksunten case, the public prosecutor’s office returned the devices after two years. IT forensic scientists only work with the copies in connection with write blockers in order not to change the data. In this way, they can provide evidence that stands up to allegations of tampering in court. Apparently they tried for five years to dig up the Linksunten data treasure – without success. A whole LKA task force from Baden-Württemberg and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution have bitten their teeth. Whether the authority responsible for cryptanalysis, ZITiS, was involved is just as unknown as the encryption algorithm used by Linksunten.
For anyone who is concerned about the security of their data, we recommend strong encryption such as PGP instead of relying on integrated offers from hard drive manufacturers – backdoors from law enforcement agencies are not known, but cannot be ruled out either .
One thing is certain: The investigative authorities are sitting on a gigantic mountain of data and are setting a lot to process this. ZITis built a high-performance computer, a quantum computer is on the wish list, but the technology is not yet ready for the market. The powers of the police to decrypt data have been expanded. Public prosecutors give what they can’t crack to external service providers. Limits should only set the prosecution statute of limitations for criminal offenses. As in the Linksunten case – the investigation had to be stopped after five years.
So much for the news – but the entire investigation is so questionable that I would like to take a closer look. 2016 was not a good year for freedom of expression and fundamental rights. How is the Linksunten ban to be classified? Let’s take a look back.
What was Linksunten?
Linksunten was a regional offshoot of the left-wing Indymedia project with a focus on southwest Germany until it was banned. Linksunten was founded to prepare for the protest against the NATO summit in Strasbourg 1999. Another, older offshoot is the German-language de.indymedia.org, which is still legal today, despite extensive content overlap. Thanks to the better moderation, however, Linksunten was more popular and spread nationwide.
Hackers and media activists founded Indymedia 1999 on the occasion of the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle. The protest against the summit and the actions of the police were similar in intensity and course to the G20 Summit 2016 in Hamburg: In the end, the National Guard marched in Seattle, in Hamburg the BFE+, a police unit that is actually supposed to hunt down Kalashnikov-wielding Islamists in terrorist attacks. Even before the “Battle of Seattle”, the activists accused the established media of reporting tendentiously or one-sidedly or of justifying police violence with false reports.
In order to create a “counter-public”, Indymedia claims to bring the news and content that the established media are not worth reporting. Dozens of left-wing networks around the world use Indymedia, there are offshoots mainly in Europe and the USA, but also in the Global South. Press releases from activist groups make up a high proportion of Indymedia content. That’s why the Linksunten ban is also an act of press censorship.
In order for the publication to be accessible to everyone, there are no releases for the contributions in many branches of Indymedia. They do not store metadata. Many left-wing groups today use blogs or other social media such as Twitter and Instagram as a mouthpiece. But the technical hurdles to your own website were 220 higher, the Internet was new territory for the masses.
This content was found on linksbelow
Due to the open posting, there were repeated spam entries and flame wars between left and right-wing radicals not only on Linksunten, but also on other Indymedia sites. After politically motivated damage to property, letters of confession were also found there, and data from Nazis was doxxed.
Indymedia recently made a name for itself with confidential information on the G7 summit in Elmau showed up. However, the spectrum of users and topics covered by Linksunten was broader: there were theoretical texts about feminism as well as vegan cooking recipes, reports from congresses and instructions on civil disobedience, as they are used “on the streets” during protests. Most of the postings are not likely to appeal to every political reader, especially not if they are in the service of the state. But that doesn’t make the content illegal.
Moderating media is difficult
Ten, if not hundreds, of thousands of entries from more than eight years are still visible in the archive, which reflects the status on the day of the ban. With the mass of entries, it is possible that the volunteer moderators did not always keep up and some entries slipped through their fingers. Criminal content is often not recognized by legal laypersons. However, numerous websites that are not prohibited have the problem.
Even the NetzDG law makes regulations that can only be observed by trained full-time content checkers – and since the law only applies from 2 million users, it is only aimed at the big ones Top dogs like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The law was passed a week after the Linksunten ban. Even before the NetzDG Act, censors would have had the opportunity to have content deleted – you could report every post on Linksunten. Apparently, the authorities never considered it necessary to do so.
Was the Linksunten ban a political maneuver?