Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Former Internet Provider Gagged by National Security Letter Recounts How He Was Silenced For 6 Years - We continue our discussion of government surveillance and internet privacy with someone who was under an FBI gag order for six years. In early 2004, Nicholas Merrill, who was running an internet service provider in New York called Calyx, was issued a national security letter that ordered him to hand over detailed private records about some of his customers. Under the law, recipients of the letters are barred from telling anyone about their encounter with the FBI. While Merrill was not the first American to be gagged after receiving a national security letter, he was the first to challenge the FBI's secret tactics. Merrill went to the American Civil Liberties Union, which then filed the first lawsuit challenging the national security letter statute. In the lawsuit, Merrill was simply identified as John Doe. It was only in August 2010, after reaching a settlement with the FBI, that Merrill was able to reveal his identity. "[The case] resulted in the National Security Letter Provision of the PATRIOT Act being ruled unconstitutional twice," Merrill says. "The problem was, though, we were never able to get to the Supreme Court to get a final, binding ruling that would affect the whole country.... The concern about cybersecurity and the concerns about privacy are really two sides of the same coin. There are a lot of really uncontroversial examples in which organizations and people need confidentiality: Medicine is one, journalism is another, human rights organizations is an obvious third. We're trying to make the case that if the right of Americans to encrypt their data and to have private information is taken away, that it's going to have grave, far-reaching effects on many kinds of industries, on our democracy as a whole, and our standing in the world."