Google Finally Sheds Some Light on National Security Letters (NSLs)

For those that aren’t aware, National Security Letters (NSLs) are these shady Orwellian instruments used by the FBI to spy on citizens without a warrant.  The really creepy part about them is that you aren’t permitted to know if there is one out on you.  It’s all one giant secret, you know, to get those terrorists.  Well, Google has finally come out and given us some color on NSLs.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) gives us the scoop: 

Of all the dangerous government surveillance powers that were expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act, the National Security Letter (NSL) power provided by five statutory provisions is one of the most frightening and invasive. These letters–the type served on communications service providers such as phone companies and ISPs and are authorized by 18 U.S.C. 2709–allow the FBI to secretly demand data about ordinary American citizens’ private communications and Internet activity without any prior judicial review. To make matters worse, recipients of NSLs are subject to gag orders that forbid them from ever revealing the letters’ existence to anyone.

Google has led the way among large companies in providing transparency with respect to legal and law enforcement requests with its transparency report, but until now, it has always left NSL requests out of its tally of requests for user data, in part, presumably, due to concerns about the accompanying gag order. By including this data, even in a generalized way that only tells us that Google received somewhere between 0 and 999 NSLs in 2012, Google has helped to at least shed some limited light on the ways in which the US government uses these secretive demands for data about users.

The FBI’s abuse of this power has been documented both by a series of Congressionally-mandated Department of Justice investigations and in documents obtained by EFF through a Freedom of Information Act request. Yet there are only a handful of lawsuits (including EFF’s) challenging the FBI’s underlying authority to issue such information demands, despite the hundreds of thousands of NSLs that have been issued over the past decade.

This is a small step in the right direction, but we need to all grow up, stop being afraid and take our civil liberties backs.  When did we become a nation of groveling little cowards terrified of our own shadows?

Full article here.

In Liberty,

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