Thank You Nicholas Merrill

Today we learn the name of the guy who challenged the more abusive aspects of the National Security Letter program: Nicholas Merrill.

Now, following the partial lifting of his gag order 11 days ago as a result of an FBI settlement, Merrill can speak openly for the first time about the experience, although he cannot disclose the full scope of the data demanded.


On a cold February day in 2004, an FBI agent pulled an envelope out of his trench coat and handed it to Merrill, who ran an Internet startup called Calyx in New York. At the time, like most Americans, he had no idea what a national security letter was.

The letter requested that Merrill provide 16 categories of “electronic communication transactional records,” including e-mail address, account number and billing information. Most of the other categories remain redacted by the FBI.

Two things, he said, “just leaped out at me.” The first was the letter’s prohibition against disclosure. The second was the absence of a judge’s signature.

Thanks to Merrill’s–and the ACLU’s–challenge of the gag order on NSLs, the authority has been slightly circumscribed (even as the Obama Administration tries to expand it).

Merrill’s ISP sounds pretty small in the grand scheme of things. So why was Merrill the guy fighting for our Constitution and not–say–Ma Bell?

  1. phred says:

    So why was Merrill the guy fighting for our Constitution and not–say–Ma Bell?

    Oooo, Oooo, I know, I know!!! It’s because as a small businessman he wasn’t spending oodles of money lobbying Congress to get big fat government contracts? Am I right? What did I win???? ; )

      • klynn says:

        Jeezey peezy EW, I think phred deserves a hub cap for that answer. I guess we’ll give you a break since you just moved and still need to scope out the good junkyards.

      • phred says:

        What – you don’t have a box in the garage with old hubcaps from the recent move? Golly, you are way tidier when you relocate than we are ; )

        Not to worry though, I’ll just go buff up the one I have already and put a little gold star next to it for my newly acquired bonus points ; )

  2. pdaly says:

    I wonder if this tells us something special about Merrill’s network, at least as it existed back in 2004.

    Was Merrill’s network not remotely tappable by the NSA back then? (Weren’t the splitters Mark Klein talked about being installed in 2002?) Has the NSA fixed the ‘problem’ in the intervening years?

  3. alinaustex says:

    There are three organizations we always send membership dues for

    1) ACLU

    2) Amnesty International

    3)Public TV …

    should Mr Merrill have another non profit he would recommmend to help beat back the unsanctioned defilement of our civil liberties we would be happy to send a contribution there too

    Thank you Mr Merrill