A Thousand a Week Become “Building Blocks” for the FBI

FBI Backs Off From Secret Order for Data After Lawsuit

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8, 2008; D01

The FBI has withdrawn a secret administrative order seeking the name, address and online activity of a patron of the Internet Archive after the San Francisco-based digital library filed suit to block the action.

It is one of only three known instances in which the FBI has backed off from such a data demand, known as a “national security letter,” or NSL, which is not subject to judicial approval and whose recipient is barred from disclosing the order’s existence.

NSLs are served on phone companies, Internet service providers and other electronic communications service providers, but because of the gag order provision, the public has little way to know about them. Their use soared after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, when Congress relaxed the standard for their issuance. FBI officials now issue about 50,000 such orders a year.

. . . FBI Assistant Director John Miller said the information requested in the Internet Archive NSL was “relevant to an ongoing, authorized national security investigation.” NSLs, he said, “remain indispensable tools for national security investigations and permit the FBI to gather the basic building blocks for our counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations.”

–read entire article–


Now you and I and our neighbor down the street are potential ‘building blocks.’ Who knew?

Every time these illegal searches are caught in a run-down between 2nd and 3rd and tagged out, the feds fold up and silently steal away. The problem becomes evident in the numbers. Intimidated, instead of angry, recipients of National Security Letters (the name is more worthy of the KGB than the FBI) fold at the rate of 350,000 to one.

Which is just a guess, because they won’t tell us how many, other than the ambiguous and unverifiable “50,000 a year.”

So, we rely on unheralded, gagged and hog-tied patriots like Brewster Kahle, co-founder and library archivist at The Internet Archive. Electronic Frontier Foundation represented the archive in the suit, which was joined by the ACLU.

(WaPo) Because they initially were not allowed to discuss the NSL over the phone, Kahle and his attorneys had to drive to one another’s offices whenever they wanted to talk about the case.

“Not being able to talk about it with our board, with my wife, made it very difficult,” said Kahle, who is also on EFF’s board. “I can imagine a hurried staffer sticking a gag into a hurried bill. But gags don’t seem to be necessary, and now, what we’ve discovered in practice, gagging librarians is horrendous.”

Yeah, it is horrendous. Akin to burning books and taking away the right to face our accusers, but we fall silent because we are not accused–so far as we know. But we don’t know, may never know. Set aside the accusations of paranoia. As we are constantly told by our government–“be afraid, be very afraid.”

Scenario: You meet a guy over drinks or through a friend and he’s cool, maybe has some business possibilities, so you exchange e-mail addresses. Maybe he (or she) is absolutely innocent, but they and not you are the subject of a National Security Letter. They and not you are suspect, or the innocent friend of a friend of a suspect, or merely linked by e-mail address to such a person.

For unknown reasons (to you at least), you may find yourself on a no-fly list, be turned down for a mortgage or credit card, miss that next promotion or even lose your job. If a security clearance is required for your excellent job with an excellent company at an excellent wage, you might lose it and never know why. Never get an explanation, because no one can talk about the circumstance. By law.

No, this is not Nazi Germany. We are scorned if we make the analogy.

You’ve been black-balled from the country club. How do you explain an inexplicable dismissal from a trusted position on an otherwise spotless resume? A final paycheck and an end to life as you once knew it because of a connection no one will explain, no one will acknowledge, that is protected by court order.

No, this is not Nazi Germany. We are scorned if we make the analogy.

And all this time you thought Michael Chertoff and his thugs over at The Department of Homeland Security were keeping you safe. Try to make that argument from an undisclosed location.

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