Automattic, the company behind WordPress, Akismet, and Gravatar, today unveiled the National Security Letters (NSLs) from the FBI, in an attempt to cast light on what these secretive letters are and what kind of information they request.
Paul Sieminski, general counsel for Automattic, explained that NSLs are hard to talk about, due to the fact they often come with non-disclosure clauses. Regardless, he says Automattic has concerns about the NSLs and what they contain:
…we take our commitment to transparency very seriously, and believe that our users and the public have a right to be informed about the nature of the tools that the government uses to conduct investigations and the scope of their use. … We also continue to believe that NSLs pose serious constitutional concerns, particularly because they indefinitely prevent companies like us from speaking about them, and informing our users or the public about the NSLs that we receive.
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All of the NSLs appear to be the same, barring the specific URLs and emails they request. In it, the agent in charge asks:
…the names, addresses, and length of service and electronic communications transactional records, to include existing transaction/activity logs and all electronic mail (e-mail) header information for the below-listed…
Automattic says it followed certain legal procedures to make sure it was allowed to post the letters. The letters themselves stipulate how the recipient can ask to disclose the NSL — you can read the redacted FBI response letters which lift each individual non-disclosure clause.
Sieminski admits part of the motivation was to give instructions to “other companies who may wish to take advantage of the legal options that are currently available to challenge NSL nondisclosure orders.”