The FBI has withdrawn a secret administrative order seeking the name, address and online activity of a patron of the Internet Archive after the San Francisco-based digital library filed suit to block the action, reports the Washington Post. It is one of only three known instances in which the FBI has backed off from such a data demand, known as a “national security letter,” or NSL, which is not subject to judicial approval and whose recipient is barred from disclosing the order’s existence.
NSLs are served on phone companies, Internet service providers and other electronic communications service providers, but because of the gag order provision, the public has little way to know about them. Their use soared after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, when Congress relaxed the standard for their issuance. FBI officials now issue about 50,000 such orders a year. The order against the Internet Archive was served Nov. 26, and the nonprofit challenged it based on a provision of the reauthorized USA Patriot Act, which protects libraries from such requests. The FBI agreed to drop the gag order and the archive agreed to withdraw the complaint. “We see this as an unqualified success,” said Brewster Kahle, the archive’s co-founder and digital librarian. “The goal here was to help other recipients of NSLs to understand that you can push back.”