National Security Letters and the Internet Archive

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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Deven Desai writes in Concurring Opinions:

Wired reports that the FBI subpoenaed the Internet Archive and demanded that Brewster Kahle (the Archive’s founder) provide records about one of the library’s registered users, asking for the user’s name, address and activity on the site. The FBI used a National Security Letter (example) to make the request. As Wired explains this type of letter does not require judge’s review before issuing it and often (almost always) has a gag order “forbidding the recipient from ever speaking of the subpoena, except to a lawyer.” The Archive, EFF, and the ACLU went to court and had the subpoena quashed.

As I argue in Property, Persona, and Preservation, given that our information is more and more technologically mediated, we need better systems to preserve our information. This case raises a
related issue of once preserved what can be done with the information.

Here, the Archive is preserving the information and then as a library
allowing people to use that information. But because of the method of
access, the FBI was able to ask for great detail about who looked at
what information and when. Julie Cohen’s A Right to Read Anonymously: A Closer Look at “Copyright Management” In Cyberspace offers an explanation as to why the Archive’s win is so important. In short, reading anonymously involves identity of the reader and how we foster “freedom of thought and expression.”