Andy Mulkerin is fully aware of the irony: Pittsburgh's Indymedia Web site (pittsburgh.indymedia.org/), established to foster the free flow of information, may be a catalyst for kicking information off the Web elsewhere.
Mulkerin helps run the site but isn't in charge. No one is; that's part of the point, as with similar sites around the world. But after someone on the site posted the home address of the Pittsburgh Police officer who tasered a picketer during the Aug. 20 Oakland protest against military recruitment, County Councilor Bill Robinson proposed removing all homeowners' names from the county's property assessment Web site, making them available only on written request.
The post on pittsburgh.indymedia.org/ listing the address of Officer Samuel Muoio did not contain any threat. "It would be nice if people contacted both the station at Squirrel Hill and Officer Muoio at his home residence to demand an apology," it said, before offering Muoio's address. "Please remember to treat the officer [with] all of the respect that is due to someone in his position," it continued. The poster, "Samoio," added that people should write a letter, citing Amnesty International's strategy.
Indymedia does not disclose the name or Internet address of posters.
"People can say what they want about us publishing" Muoio's address, says Mulkerin, who is also a former City Paper intern, "but it's not us that's publishing it. We as a collective are just enabling people to publish information, but people are free to do with it what they want. As long as what's being posted doesn't violate our guidelines, it's going to go up no matter what."
In fact, Mulkerin and other site monitors do limit what can be posted, and deleted a later "Samoio" entry about the city officer. Judging from "Samoio"'s subsequent complaint - which was posted - it included certain things about the officer gleaned from Google -his employment history, for instance. "Danny P.," explains that the deleted post had put the site "in a perilous balancing act here, because there is a fear that this could complicate legal situations."
Robinson points out that the idea for his bill predates the Indymedia posting of Muoio's address, but the post still concerns him. He suggests contacting the police officer's supervisor "first before people trying to get cute and getting a fire started that they can't put out."
Robinson says he received requests from the county's chiefs of police association and the city officers' union, the Fraternal Order of Police, for a bill that would authorize the removal of police officers names from the site. In June, the names of more than 100 local, state and federal judges were removed under similar safety concerns.
"I don't think it's out of the ordinary to consider special protections for police and judges," says Robinson. "Judges and police are given special status because they have special responsibilities and special accountabilities ... so it is appropriate to look at if there could be special measures to protect them."
But Michael Havens, president of the Pittsburgh FOP, says he never asked that just police officers' names be removed. He says his requests have "always been to have everyone's names taken off the county Web site." Still, he says the posting of a police officer's home address is another reason why the County's Web site should be restricted.
Says Havens, "We have always been opposed to" names being posted. "We understand there are times when people need that kind of information but we want to limit that kind of information, especially the easy access." Havens says that last year, after anti-war protests, police were assigned to watch the homes of a sergeant and the officer's family after his residential information was publicized on the Indymedia site and he received anonymous, harassing letters.
Robinson's bill has yet to come up for a vote. Meanwhile, the debate may continue.
"Please ... consider abandoning the rhetoric of personal attack that inflames emotion and may even rise to criminal threats against an individual," E.C. Pittinger posted on the Indymedia site. "Such tactics do nothing to spread your public message, may serve to undermine your efforts and is extremely destructive to relations between citizens and police."
Elizabeth Pittinger is executive director of the Citizens Police Review Board.