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The FBI’s Secret Letters To Internet Service Providers… Revealed

The FBI’s Secret Letters To Internet Service Providers… Revealed
[Photo: Flickr user Lenore Edman]

A secret FBI letter sent to an Internet entrepreneur has been unveiled after more than a decade–and its contents reveal a surprising truth.

Nicholas Merrill, the CEO of a New York-based Internet service provider called Calyx, received a National Security Letter (NSL) from the federal government back in 2004; he was barred from even discussing the existence of the letter with loved ones. After a long legal battle, the contents of the letter have been released… and they indicate that the FBI can request users’ web browsing activities and e-commerce histories without a warrant.

NSLs are sent out several thousand times a year; the letters forbid recipients from disclosing their existence or the content of the letters to lawyers or any other outside parties. They demand that recipients turn over information such as Internet browsing history or telephone histories to federal investigators; Merrill defied the letter and called in lawyers for what turned into an epic, 11-year-long legal battle.

Merrill told the Washington Post during a conference call that ““I have spent over a quarter of my life fighting to get my right to speak about this issue back. For more than a decade, the FBI has been demanding extremely sensitive information about private citizens from thousands of companies.”

In a ruling lifting the gag order, U.S. Judge Victor Marrero called aspects of the NSL “absurd.”

NU