An Internet hosting service in New York says FBI agents have seized a server through which at least three anonymously emailed University of Pittsburgh bomb threats were sent.
The Internet hosting service May First/People Link said that the threats were sent through one of its servers used by the European Counter Network, or ECN, an Italian Internet provider that allows users to send anonymous e-mails.
May First/People Link officials have said they believe ECN was hacked for criminal purposes.
May First/People Link Director Jamie McClelland said Thursday that agents used a search warrant to take the server from its New York facility, disrupting services for hundreds of people and organizations.
"We sympathize with the University of Pittsburgh community who have had to deal with this frightening disruption for weeks. We oppose such threatening actions," said Devin Theriot-Orr of Riseup Networks, which shares the New York City office where the server was located. "However, taking this server won't stop these bomb threats. The only effect it has is to also disrupt e-mail and websites for thousands of unrelated people."
Anonymous remailers, such as the one offered by ECN, make it challenging to trace emails, so it is unlikely the FBI will find information of value, Mr. Theriot-Orr said. Some anonymous remailers do not record logs of connections, details of who sent emails or how they were routed.
"In the absence of any other leads, the FBI needs to show that they are making progress in this case, and this has meant seizing a server so they can proudly demonstrate they are taking some action," Mr. McClelland said in a news release. "What this incident shows is they are grasping at straws and are willing to destroy innocent bystanders for the sake of protecting their careers."
Many of the people and organizations who use the seized server are academics, gay rights groups, feminists, documentation and software archives, community centers and free-speech groups, the news release said.
They rely on the anonymous remailing service Mixmaster for privacy; many such services were developed to protect the identities of human rights activists in other countries, whistleblowers, and others who could face harm if they are revealed. Mr. Theriot-Orr said there are many other remailing services a culprit could use if he or she did not have access to Mixmaster.
"The network of anonymous remailers that exists is not harmed by taking this machine," he said.