Compliance Management, Privacy

FBI cancels request for information on library patron

In what is considered a victory for online library users, the FBI withdrew a national security letter that had been issued to the Internet Archive, a nonprofit internet library.

The NSL was initially issued in November 2007 to secretly search for information about an online patron. The FBI asked for the person's name, address, and any electronic communication records. The NSL also included a gag order, prohibiting the Internet Archive from disclosing the existence of the letter.

Shortly after, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit challenging the NSL. In the lawsuit, the Internet Archive questioned the constitutionality of the FBI's authority to impose broad non-disclosure obligations, stating that the FBI was not entitled to the information because of the Internet Archive's status as a library.

According to the EFF, the archive is protected by federal law in a 2006 amendment Congress made to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to limit the FBI's ability to demand records from libraries.

Having the NSL withdrawn was an important case study, Rebecca Jeschke, a spokeswoman for EFF told on Thursday.

“This is great for library privacy,” Jeschke said. “Congress decided that library users should have some protection from the government learning everything they decided to read. But this is also a victory for those who want more oversight in National Security Letters' procedures.”

This may also help lawmakers who want to create reforms for NSLs.

“When everything is secret,” Jeschke said, “there is no way to figure out if things are happening legally or correctly.”

The FBI put out an official statement that the lawsuit between the parties had been settled, but 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.”

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