The FBI has withdrawn a secret demand that the Internet Archive provide details of a registered user’s personal information. This is reportedly only the third time an organization has succeeded in challenging a National Security Letter (NSL). The enormity of this success: the NYT reports that the “FBI issued nearly 200,000 NSLs between 2003 and 2006.”
With a national security letter, the FBI can “require businesses such as libraries, internet service providers, banks, hospitals or telephone companies to provide customer records on request — no court order (warrant) required.” Courtesy of the US Patriot Act.
At least one judge has ruled that NSLs are unconstitutional due to the gag order; the ruling is under appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
The Case of the Internet Archive
In November 2007, the FBI issued the NSL to Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. S.O.P.: there was a corollary gag. Kahle turned to EFF and the ACLU for help; they filed a complaint in December. In April, the FBI withdrew the request and unsealed the court case (breaking the gag).
The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization that provides an archive of web resources, including multimedia. The state of California recognizes it as a digital library. In 2006, Congress gave libraries some NSL safeguards.
Founded in 1996 and located in the Presidio of San Francisco, the Archive has been receiving data donations from Alexa Internet and others. In late 1999, the organization started to grow to include more well-rounded collections. Now the Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages in our collections.
One feature of the site is its “Wayback Machine” which allows researchers (or the curious) to see what a website looked like “back then.” Given the impermanent nature of zeros-and-ones, and the fact that most sites don’t archive prior iterations, this is a tremendous public service.
What You Can Do
There are two pieces of legislation (companion bills) languishing in Congress that would reform NSL: HR 3189 and S 2088, The National Security Letters Reform Act of 2007. Contact your congress critters. Ask the presidential candidates their position on NSLs.
Read the NSL (pdf); the corresponding constitutional challenge (pdf); and the settlement (pdf). (tip)