Independent Media Center (Indymedia), the UK-based group responsible for running about 20 independent news websites, said that US authorities returned its servers, but the group is still looking for answers as to why the two servers were seized last week.
On 8 October, a US federal order was issued to web hosting provider Rackspace requesting the computer equipment from its offices in London, where Rackspace was hosting the Indymedia web servers.
"Yes, the servers were returned yesterday and the customer now has access to them, though the customer has chosen not to reinstate them as of yet," said Rackspace spokeswoman, Annalie Drusch.
Drusch said that a court order expressly forbid anyone at Rackspace from discussing the contents of the subpoena, including the reasons behind the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's request for the servers.
Indymedia, which describes itself as an international media network covering social justice issues, said that it verified that the returned hard drives are the originals, but that the group is treating them as "compromised". As a result, some affected websites will remain down for the time being.
The order was issued under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, allowing for mutual cooperation between countries in investigations such as international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering.
According to cyberliberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is working with Indymedia on possible legal action, the seizure was in response to a subpoena issued at the request of Italian and Swiss authorities.
The EFF characterised the move to take the servers as a flagrant violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, covering freedom of speech.
Although some related sites are still down, the Indymedia site in the UK was quickly restored after the loss of its servers because it was backed up on another server. Other sites in places such as Antwerp, Belgium; Belgrade, Serbia, and Lille, France, took longer to restore. Furthermore, some of its local affiliates, like Uruguay, Italy, Massachusetts and Nantes, France, lost data because of the seizure.
Officials from the Home Office, the UK's clearinghouse for local and federal security, safety and intelligence matters, refused to discuss the case or to confirm or deny it was involved in the operation. After repeated attempts, the FBI could not be reached for comment.
Laura Rohde writes for IDG News Service