- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Yahoo’s publication Wednesday of National Security Letters it received from the FBI marked the first time ever details have been disclosed concerning the highly secretive surveillance orders in accordance with the USA Freedom Act, the company said.

Through the issuing of National Security Letters, or NSLs, federal law enforcement can compel companies for vast types of user data while indefinitely prohibiting details about those requests from ever being disclosed. Following passage of the USA Freedom Act last summer, however, those nondisclosure agreements can be terminated if the FBI believes that withholding information is no longer warranted.

Amid thousands of those orders being issued each year, Yahoo published three NSLs this week — “the first time any company has been able to publicly acknowledge receiving an NSL as a result of the reforms of the USA Freedom Act,” claimed Chris Madsen, Yahoo’s head of global law enforcement, security and safety.

“We’re able to disclose details of these NSLs today because, with the enactment of the USA Freedom Act, the FBI is now required to periodically assess whether an NSL’s nondisclosure requirement is still appropriate, and to lift it when not. We believe this is an important step toward enriching a more open and transparent discussion about the legal authorities law enforcement can leverage to access user data,” Mr. Madsen wrote on the Yahoo Policy blog Wednesday.

In addition to posting redacted copies of three NSLs received in April 2013, August 2013 and June 2015, Yahoo also published letters sent by the FBI last month in which the agency said a gag order was no longer necessary.

“Consistent with the requirements of the USA Freedom Act of 2015 and the Termination Procedures for NSL Nondisclosure Requirement, the FBI … reviewed whether to continue the nondisclosure requirement” in three NSLs issued to Yahoo “and … determined that nondisclosure is no longer necessary,” Mr. Madsen quoted from the letters.

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As a result of the gag orders being lifted last month, Yahoo only recently became legally allowed to acknowledge it received the three NSLs, as well as any details concerning the type of records requested by authorities. Yahoo provided the FBI with names, addresses and length-of-service information for accounts identified in two of the requests, while the third request was for an account for which no records existed, Mr. Madsen wrote.

“We believe there is value in making these documents available to the public to promote an informed discussion about the legal authorities available to law enforcement. They also demonstrate the importance of hard-fought reforms to surveillance law achieved with passage of the USA Freedom Act,” he added.

A Department of Justice inspector general’s report last year determined that the FBIissued more than 400,000 NSLs between 2003 and 2011, and more than 7,000 requests for records were made during 2015, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Nick Merrill, the former owner of Calyx Internet Access, an internet service provider, won the right last September to reveal he had received an NSL eleven years earlier after pursuing legal action in spite of the USA Freedom Act. As reported last week, Twitter is currently suing the Justice Department in an effort to be able to say specifically how many NSLs it receives each year; currently, that figure can only be disclosed in bands of 500.

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