The US government regularly asks social media companies to remove specific pieces of content. But raw audio being taken down from SoundCloud, allegedly at the FBI's request, is not something you come across everyday.
This case revolves around Cock.li, a small email and VPS provider, which has faced subpoenas and law enforcement seizures in the past.
"It's not like we can sue SoundCloud, plus now I can just host the recording myself," Vincent Canfield, the Linux system administrator who runs Cock.li, told Motherboard in an online chat.
Canfield announced the SoundCloud removal in a blog post published on Thursday, in which he claims the audio related to a phone call he had with the FBI in September 2016 (Motherboard has listened to the call: it concerns legal issues around non-disclosure agreements, and not case or investigation details.) Canfield told Motherboard the call concerned a bomb threat against the Miami FBI Office.
Sometimes, Canfield will live broadcast calls he has with law enforcement via Mumble, a communications service. This way, Canfield writes in his post, if he is later gagged from talking about a topic by the authorities, the gag order itself may already be public knowledge.
"When the phone call was over, one of the listeners and a friend of mine, Skipper Blue, informed me that he had recorded the phone call, and intended to publish it. Skipper proceeded to publish the call on SoundCloud and share it with cock.li users. Hooray for transparency!" Canfield writes in his post.
On February 3, Skipper Blue allegedly received an email from SoundCloud which said the file had been removed, and pointed to a section of the company's terms and service, which include that a user must not use SoundCloud to distribute content that infringes the "rights of privacy or publicly," and "confidential information."
According to Canfield's post, the pair tried to get more information from SoundCloud, and received an email from the company on Thursday. It allegedly said the audio had been removed because, "we were made aware that one of the parties did not give their consent for the publication of this call."
Canfield told Motherboard he was not the party that complained, leaving only one other possibility: the FBI.
Neither the FBI or SoundCloud immediately responded to a request for comment. Unlike a host of other tech companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, SoundCloud does not publish its own transparency report, so it is unclear how often SoundCloud receives similar requests.
According to Canfield's post, this removal "has dangerous ramifications: It essentially eliminates the possibility of using SoundCloud for journalism. Will SoundCloud remove the recordings of countless journalists whe [sic] use their site to host undercover recordings?" Canfield then points to other files, including one related to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The call is currently hosted on Canfield's own site, along with a grand jury non-disclosure notice from the US Department of Justice and other materials.
"Ultimately this transparency is good for the users, and good for public record," Canfield said.
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