by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
fbi, nicholas merrill, nsl, patriot act

Very Few Companies Fight Back Against Patriot Act Gag Orders

from the sad-to-hear dept

A few years ago, when we wrote about Nicholas Merrill's successful fight to reveal that his ISP had been gagged by a "national security letter" (NSL) from the FBI, we noted that "For every Nicholas Merrill, you can bet that thousands of others just gave in and didn't put up a fight -- even if the requests were bogus." It appears that was absolutely true.

Wired reports that, in the past few years, since the FBI was told it needed to at least tell companies they could challenge the gag order on NSLs, only four challenges have been issued on over 50,000 NSLs. In two of the four cases, the FBI backed down and let the company notify the individual. As Wired notes, it had asked the FBI the same question a couple months ago, and the FBI claimed (incorrectly) that "there are no stats" and suggested that no one had challenged it other than Merrill.

Remember, NSLs are requests from the government (along with a gag order), but they are not subpoenas nor do they have any real oversight. Yet the FBI gets to issue tens of thousands of them, asking companies for information -- and imposing a strict gag order on them -- and most companies just roll over and do it.

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  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 May 2012 @ 6:20pm


    The bigger much better question is why the hell does the FBI get to request data in this fashion?

    "A national security letter (NSL) is a form of administrative subpoena used by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and reportedly by other U.S. government agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense. They require no probable cause or judicial oversight."

    So we have now a secret special law enforcement operation not bound by the rule of law. The argument of but the terrorists will know we are looking into them in hollow.
    Even give their own proclamations of having stopped threats, they put into motion, come no where near the numbers of these letters (or post-it's) sent out.

    Businesses do not want to fight for their customers simply because we know what happens to people who try to stand up against the Government. You can be "randomly" selected for extra screening on every flight you get onto. You can have your business shut down as they do an "investigation" into something wrong. There is a long list of dirty tricks no one wants to talk about, because to admit the US Government does this makes them no better than 3rd World Dictators. (well maybe slightly better they aren't just shooting them on the streets here...yet. But 1 way trips to Gitmo from anywhere in the world are kinda not nice).

    It is time to force them to reveal how many they actually issued, how many times they neglected to point out there is a chance to fight them, and how many of them lead to anything useful. If they issued 10,000 and it leads to 10,000 arrests and convictions for bad things... it is an evil that is doing good that might be acceptable. If out of 10,000 1 lead to anything more it might be time to force them to get a more targeted system working, rather than giving them blanket powers that at best are just being used to replace real investigation.

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