My name is Nicholas Merrill and I was the plaintiff in a legal case in the US court system where I challenged the FBI’s policy of using a feature of the so-called USA PATRIOT act - what are called “National Security Letters” - to bypass the American Constitution's system of checks and balances and in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights - in order to obtain protected personal information and to unmask anonymous Internet users. I spent over 6 years not able to speak to anyone (other than my lawyers) about my case - forced to lie to those closest to me due to an FBI gag order that carried a possible 10 year prison sentence for violating it. However the lawsuit resulted in the establishment of two key legal precedents and made changes that affect every Internet worker and Telephone worker in America. I would like to speak to the 27C3 audience in order to tell about my experience and to challenge (and offer my support and assistance to) those individuals who are in a position to challenge government surveillance requests to follow their consciences and do so. People who work at Internet Service Providers and Telephone companies as well as IT workers at Universities and private businesses are increasingly likely to encounter government attempts at surveillance. I would like to speak to the CCC regarding my experiences in resisting a National Security Letter and also a “Grand Jury Subpoena” as well as my experience of being gagged by the FBI for nearly 7 years - unable to speak on the subject or identify myself as the plaintiff in the NSL lawsuit. Nicholas Merrill founded Calyx Internet Access Corporation in 1995. Calyx Internet Access was one of the first commercial Internet service providers operating in New York City. Calyx pursued relationships with and worked with many activist groups on a pro bono or low-cost basis, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Independent Media Center (Indymedia.org) and the Drug Policy Foundation. In 2004, after a receiving a “National Security Letter” from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a subsequent request from the U.S. Secret Service, Calyx became involved with the ACLU and in using the legal system and the media to resist illegal government requests for information on Internet users. For six and a half years, Merrill and the ACLU tirelessly challenged the orders contained in the letter, resulting in the establishment of two key legal precedents overturning aspects of the national security letter program. Along the way he encountered court proceedings where he could not even be present - where he could not be referred to by name, but instead was referred to in all court documents as "John Doe". He also encountered heavy handed government censorship of court documents under the guise of "National Security" and secret evidence presented to the judge by the FBI that his attorneys were not allowed to see. The merging of Merrill's long interest in advocacy and free speech combined with his experience with the U.S. government inspired him to form a non-govermental organization (NGO) to deal specifically with this issue without being distracted or compromised by the requirements of a for-profit business.
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