Internet Archive’s Suit Gets FBI to Withdraw National Security Letter

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The FBI is dropping its demand for information about a subscriber from the Internet Archive as part of a settlement of a lawsuit. The agency is also agreeing to allow discussion of the case, which challenged a national security letter issued by the agency.

The victory is one of only a few successful challenges to national security letters used to gather customer information from telecommunications companies in terrorism investigations, report the Recorder and the Washington Post. The law authorizing the letters allows them to be issued without judicial approval and bars the recipients from revealing their existence. The Recorder says there have been four successful challenges, while the Post puts the number at three.

The Archive operates the Wayback Machine, which stores archived versions of websites. It was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

FBI Assistant Director John Miller told the Post that the information sought from the Internet Archive was “relevant to an ongoing, authorized national security investigation.” He said national security letters “remain indispensable tools for national security investigations and permit the FBI to gather the basic building blocks for our counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations.”

But ACLU staff attorney Melissa Goodman told the Post that the FBI has backed down every time a national security letter has been challenged in court. “That calls into question how much the FBI needed the information in the first place, and finally, whether the FBI needs this kind of sweeping and unchecked surveillance power,” she said.

A federal judge in New York has ruled the law keeping national security letters secret is a violation of the First Amendment. The decision by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero is under appeal.

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