Skip to main content
2024 Tech Trivia Site Banner

EFFector - Volume 17, Issue 19 - FBI's "National Security Letters" Threaten Online Speech and Privacy


EFFector - Volume 17, Issue 19 - FBI's "National Security Letters" Threaten Online Speech and Privacy

EFFector       Vol. 17, No. 19       May 27, 2004

A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation     ISSN 1062-9424

In the 291st Issue of EFFector:

Sink the PIRATE Act

The PIRATE Act (S.2237) is yet another attempt to make taxpayers fund the misguided war on file sharing, and it's moving fast. The bill would allow the government to file civil copyright lawsuits in addition to criminal prosecutions, dramatically lowering the burden of proof and adding to the thousands of suits already filed by record companies. It would also force the American public to pay the legal bills of foreign record companies like Bertelsmann, Vivendi Universal, EMI, and Sony. Meanwhile, not a penny from the lawsuits goes to the artists.

Don't let the record industry use your hard-earned dollars to pursue this fruitless war; tell Congress to sink the PIRATE Act!

Make your voice heard:

Join EFF today:

FBI's "National Security Letters" Threaten Online Speech and Privacy

EFF Urges Court to Find USA PATRIOT Act Powers Unconstitutional

San Francisco, CA - EFF this week filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the ACLU in a suit challenging the constitutionality of National Security Letters (NSLs). Authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act and issued directly by FBI agents without any court supervision or show of probable cause, the letters are used to demand detailed information about people's Internet communications from ISPs, web mail providers, and other communications service providers. The people whose private data is searched are not notified, and every letter is accompanied by a gag order that prohibits the letter's recipient from ever revealing its existence.

In its brief, EFF argues that the portion of the PATRIOT Act authorizing these warrantless government demands is unconstitutional, violating both First Amendment free speech rights and the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

"Using National Security Letters, the FBI can see what websites you visit, what mailing lists you subscribe to, whom you correspond with, and much more - all without judicial oversight of any kind," explained EFF Staff Attorney and Bruce J. Ennis/ Equal Justice Works Fellow Kevin Bankston. "Yet this unrestrained power to examine innocent citizens' First Amendment activities online is merely one of the unconstitutional surveillance authorities granted to the FBI by the PATRIOT Act."

A favorable judgment in the ACLU's case would prohibit the FBI from using NSLs any further.

Co-signatories to the EFF brief include the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Online Policy Group, Salon Media Group's division the WELL, and the U.S. Internet Industry Association.

For the full press release:

EFF amicus brief in the case:

EFF analysis of PATRIOT Section 505 - National Security Letters (NSLs):


miniLinks features noteworthy news items from around the Internet.

Clear Channel Finds Another Way to Abuse Artists: Patents
The company recently bought a patent for recording a CD of a concert immediately after the show. A profitable, artist-empowering industry currently uses the technology, but Clear Channel plans to enforce its patent across and beyond its 130 U.S. venues:
(Rolling Stone)

Diebold. We're From the Private Sector and We're Here to Help
That's the tagline from one of the Diebold Variations, a hilarious collection of clever "faux-sters" criticizing the embattled e-voting company:

RIAA Suits Keep Rolling (Over People)
USA Today has a sad snapshot of Tammy Lafky, a single mother whose 14 year-old daughter downloaded music and who now faces up to $540,000 in damages from a music industry lawsuit. An RIAA flak points out that the suits are supposed to teach people that file sharing is "wrong." Not that there's anything wrong with bankrupting a single mother...right?

Copyright's Communications Policy
Tim Wu provides an insightful treatment of the "ugly" bits of the Copyright Act and an effective rebuttal to the view that copyright should be a perfect property right for economic efficiency:

Broadcast Flagging Digital Radio?
Taking a page from Hollywood's playbook, the RIAA is pushing the FCC to mandate a broadcast flag for digital radio:

Open-Sourcing the Law
Grokline is a collaborative "living history" of UNIX ownership aimed at drop-kicking future copyright/patent claims:

Northern Flights: Alaskans Fight CAPPS II
Four Alaskans are challenging the controversial passenger-profiling program in federal court:

When "Free" Turns a Profit
USA Today on making money the new-fashioned way: giving stuff away:

Italy Jacks Up Criminal Penalties for P2P
The new law could slap a 3-year jail term on individuals who either upload or download copyrighted material:

U.S. Lubes Passports with RFID Snake Oil
That's the priceless headline of this Register piece on the (many) problems with using RFID tags in passports:

"True Names" Bill Rolls Through CA Senate
The bill requires the attachment of valid email addresses to copyrighted works distributed online:

Copyright Travel Advisory: Japan
We were shocked when a Japanese researcher was put in jail for authoring a file-sharing application, but it turns out there's more copyright extremism where that came from. The operator of a popular Japanese gaming site has now been jailed for posting *unauthorized screenshots*:

Common Sense Spotted in UK Discussion of National IDs
Forgery, biometrics, and the problems with both are addressed in this article from The Register:

Staff Calendar

For a complete listing of EFF speaking engagements (with locations and times), please visit the full calendar.


EFFector is published by:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation
454 Shotwell Street
San Francisco CA 94110-1914 USA
+1 415 436 9333 (voice)
+1 415 436 9993 (fax)

Donna Wentworth, Web Writer/Activist

To Join EFF online, or make an additional donation, go to:

Membership and donation queries:
General EFF, legal, policy or online resources queries:

Reproduction of this publication in electronic media is encouraged. Signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of EFF. To reproduce signed articles individually, please contact the authors for their express permission. Press releases and EFF announcements and articles may be reproduced individually at will.

To change your address or other information, please visit:

If you have already subscribed to the EFF Action Center, please visit:

To unsubscribe from the EFFector mailing list, send an email to with the word "Remove" in the subject.

(Please ask to manually remove you from the list if this does not work for you for some reason.)

Back issues are available at:

You can also get the latest issue of EFFector via the Web at:

Back to table of contents

Return to EFFector Newsletters Index

Please send any questions or comments to

Back to top

JavaScript license information