National Security Letter Recipient Can Speak Out For First Time Since FBI Demanded Customer Records From Him

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on August 10, 2010

Follow up to previous postings on National Security Letters, this news release: “The FBI has partially lifted a gag it imposed on American Civil Liberties Union client Nicholas Merrill in 2004 that prevented him from disclosing to anyone that he received a national security letter (NSL) demanding private customer records. Merrill, who received the NSL as the president of an Internet service provider (ISP), can now reveal his identity and speak about his experience for the first time since receiving the NSL. The ACLU and New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the NSL statute and the gag order on behalf of Merrill (then called John Doe) in April 2004, which resulted in numerous court rulings finding the NSL statute unconstitutional. Merrill was the first person ever to challenge an NSL in court…NSLs are secret record demands the FBI issues to obtain access to personal customer records from ISPs, libraries, financial institutions and credit reporting agencies without court approval or even suspicion of wrongdoing. Because the FBI can gag NSL recipients to prohibit them from disclosing anything about the record demands they receive, the FBI’s use and potential abuse of the NSL power has been shrouded in excessive secrecy. While the NSL served on Merrill stated that he was prohibited from telling anyone about it, he decided to challenge the demand in court because he believed that the FBI was ordering him to turn over constitutionally protected information about one of his clients. Because of the FBI-imposed gag, Merrill was prohibited from talking about the NSL or revealing his identity and role in the lawsuit until today, even though the FBI abandoned its demand for records from Merrill more than three years ago.”

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