Unknown Tech Company Fighting Back Against FBI's National Security Letter Gag Order

from the nice-to-hear dept

Last year Twitter was willing to stand up to the feds when they tried to issue a so-called 2703(d) order to try to reveal info about some Wikileaks collaborators. A (d) order is like a warrant, but with fewer privacy protections, but Twitter fought hard to at least let users know that the government was seeking to get their information, in order to allow them to fight back. Of course, the (d) order process is pretty obscure. Much more commonly used is the so-called national security letters (NSLs) process, which is a favorite of the FBI's. The FBI is also well known for abusing NSLs, and despite various slaps on the wrist, appears to continue to use them regularly. Basically, it lets them write a letter demanding information from an intermediary, along with a complete gag order about it.

The gag orders are especially problematic, and thankfully some judges have questioned those gag orders. But because so much around NSLs is secret, it's tough to know much about what's going on with them. A few years ago, an ISP owner famously fought an NSL he was issued, but it took years before Nicholas Merril, CEO of Calyx Internet Access, could even admit that he had done so.

Wired is now reporting that some other company is now fighting an NSL order from the FBI, but the details are pretty sparse:
Sometime earlier this year, a provider of communication services in the United States "perhaps a phone company, perhaps Twitter" got a letter from the FBI demanding it turn over information on one, or possibly even hundreds, of its customers. The letter instructed the company to never disclose the existence of the demand to anyone "in particular, the target of the investigation..."


But this time, the company that received the request pushed back. It told the agency that it wanted to tell its customer that he or she was being targeted, which would give the customer a chance to fight the request in court, as a group of Twitter users did last year when the Justice Department sought their records under a different kind of request. The minor defiance in this latest case was enough to land the NSL request in a federal court docket last Friday, where the government filed a request for a court order to force the company to adhere to the gag order.
The Justice Department, of course, is insisting that the gag order must be in put in place or it "may endanger the national security of the United States." Given just how many of these NSLs the government issues, at some point it has to be realized that they're crying wolf tens of thousands of times per year. Somehow it's difficult to believe that actually giving people a right to protect their own privacy rights would endanger national security thousands of times per month...
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Filed Under: fbi, national security letters, wikileaks
Companies: twitter

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  1. icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), 15 Mar 2012 @ 12:59pm

    Sadly, even for the concept of National Security, the National Security card gets played so often and so abusively that when the phrase is heard the first impulse is to assign it to the liar bin alongside the flyers and come ons to get a shiny new credit card because you've magically pre-qualified.

    I can see the very rare case where it makes sense. Counteracting that is the FBI's well earned reputation of going on fishing expeditions must because they seem to want to. I'm not just picking on the FBI here as the RCMP has a similar well earned reputation.

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