A telecommunications company in California, believed to be Credo – a company that resells wireless spectrum – is being sued after they challenged one of the FBI’s ultra-secret National Security Letters (NSL) and its accompanying gag order.
For those who are not familiar, National Security Letters are laws that allow the FBI to bypass the courts and issue letters on their own authority to telecoms and financial organizations, which demand information on their customers.
In addition, the recipient of an NSL is permanently blocked from discussing the letter, so neither the public or the intended targets of the letter – namely the organization’s customers – will know when they were issued, what the NSLs requested, or why. The secrecy, the FBI explains, is to prevent targets of an investigation from learning that they are – targets of an investigation.
Challenging an NSL is rare it seems, as this most recent example is only the second time it’s happened. Publically that is. According to the records released by the EFF, in this latest example, the FBI says that by challenging the NSL and the gag order, the unknown telecommunications company “violates federal law.”
“[The] Defendant has stated its objection to compliance with the provisions of, and has not complied with, a National Security Letter that was lawfully issued pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2709. Defendant’s failure to comply with a lawfully issues National Security Letter interferes with the United States’ vindication of its sovereign interests in law enforcement, counterintelligence, and protecting national security.”
In an interview with Wired’s Kim Zetter, the EFF’s Matt Zimmerman, called the DOJ’s charge intense.
“It’s a huge deal to say you are in violation of federal law having to do with a national security investigation. That is extraordinarily aggressive from my standpoint. They’re saying you are violating the law by challenging our authority here.”
In somewhat related news, within his Op Ed for the Wall Street Journal, President Obama called on Congress to take cybersecurity seriously, while protecting the privacy of individuals.
“It doesn’t take much to imagine the consequences of a successful cyber attack. In a future conflict, an adversary unable to match our military supremacy on the battlefield might seek to exploit our computer vulnerabilities here at home. Taking down vital banking systems could trigger a financial crisis. The lack of clean water or functioning hospitals could spark a public health emergency. And as we’ve seen in past blackouts, the loss of electricity can bring businesses, cities and entire regions to a standstill,” the President wrote.
President Obama’s remarks come on the same day that Senators Lieberman, Collins, Feinstein, and Rockefeller introduced a revised version of their previously proposed cybersecurity legislation. The revision adds privacy protections for consumers, and removes a controversial mandate for security standards.
In a statement, Senator Lieberman somewhat admitted that the revised bill lacks teeth.
“While the bill we introduced in February is stronger, this compromise will significantly strengthen the cybersecurity of the nation’s most critical infrastructure and with it our national and economic security,” he said.
“This compromise bill creates a public-private partnership to set cybersecurity standards for critical American infrastructure, and offers the reward of some immunity from liability to those who meet those standards. In other words, we are going to try carrots instead of sticks as we begin to improve our cyber defenses. This compromise bill will depend on incentives rather than mandatory regulations to strengthen America’s cybersecurity. If that doesn’t work, a future Congress will undoubtedly come back and adopt a more coercive system.”