Justice Department Sues Telco For Daring To Challenge Its Secret Demands For Private Information

from the hubris dept

The US Justice Department really does seem to be completely drunk with power these days. We've written before about how the FBI is famous for abusing the powers of "National Security Letters" (NSLs) that allow them to demand information from service providers, financial firms and the like -- with a built-in gag order. A few years ago, we wrote about an ISP, Calyx, which challenged an NSL it received, and had to fight the DOJ in complete secrecy for years, until the DOJ basically dropped the request and allowed Calyx's Nicholas Merrill to go public with the details of the legal fight.

However, in news revealed this week, there is a second telco that isn't just challenging an NSL -- which is not only expressly allowed under the law, though now the DOJ is required to tell recipients this fact with the NSL -- but also challenging the whole NSL process itself. In response, amazingly, the Justice Department sued the telco, claiming that it failed to hand over the information requested in the NSL, as required by law. There's no way to look at this other than as a vindictive move by the DOJ.
Instead of responding directly to that challenge and filing a motion to compel compliance in the way the Justice Department has responded to past challenges, government attorneys instead filed a lawsuit against the telecom, arguing that by refusing to comply with the NSL and hand over the information it was requesting, the telecom was violating the law, since it was “interfer[ing] with the United States’ vindication of its sovereign interests in law enforcement, counterintelligence, and protecting national security.”

They did this, even though courts have allowed recipients who challenge an NSL to withhold government-requested data until the court compels them to hand it over. The Justice Department argued in its lawsuit that recipients cannot use their legal right to challenge an individual NSL to contest the fundamental NSL law itself.
All of this came out this week after it having been secret for some time, thanks in part to the EFF's efforts to get some of the information public. The Wall Street Journal appears to have identified the telco in question as Credo, a small Northern California company.

The DOJ's response to the challenge -- suing the telco -- is incredibly aggressive, and is clearly designed to create a massive chilling effect for any other organization who might challenge an NSL, despite the clear legality of issuing such a challenge. This kind of response from the DOJ, however, is par for the course these days. It's been quite aggressive in trying to silence those who criticize its efforts, and this is just the latest example. While the excellent Wired article linked above finds it surprising that the government allowed the evidence of this DOJ lawsuit to become public, I don't think it's that surprising. If the goal is to create chilling effects and intimidate lots of others into not challenging NSLs, then letting it be known that you sued a telco who tried would certainly get the job done.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: chilling effects, doj, justice department, national security letters, nsl, privacy, surveillance
Companies: credo, eff


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    mischab1, 19 Jul 2012 @ 2:14pm

    I've never really thought of Credo as small but compared to AT&T and the like, I guess it is. :-)

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.