Internet Archive Received National Security Letter with FBI Misinformation about Challenging Gag Order – & a slide into a revere on the heroism of Aaron Swartz

Internet Archive

The Internet Archive received their second National Security Letter (NSL) in August of this year containing numerous mistakes about the law on both the requirement of the “gag order” that demands absolute secrecy, as well as misinformation about the methods and frequency allowed to challenge NSLs. The FBI, after being notified of this mistake, allowed the order to be published and admitted that it had sent National Security Letters with this same misinformation to potentially thousands of other communications providers since the law was changed in over a year and a half before the Internet Archive received this letter. (Over 13,000 NSL’s were sent to communication providers in 2015, alone, and from the FBI’s own statements, it appears that all of the NSL’s issued during that time had the same harmfully erroneous language.)

In 2007, when the archive received their first National Security Letter, they successfully contested it with help from EFF and the ACLU.

The Internet Archive, if you are unaware of it, is an amazing idea come to life, but not without a fight, and not without some costs that can never be measured. But first, a bit about what the Internet Archive is, because learning what it is is learning why it is so vital to humanity.

More information can be found on The Internet Archive’s about page, but here’s a quick primer from that page:

The Digital “Library”

Why the Archive is Building an ‘Internet Library’

Libraries exist to preserve society’s cultural artifacts and to provide access to them. If libraries are to continue to foster education and scholarship in this era of digital technology, it’s essential for them to extend those functions into the digital world.

But without cultural artifacts, civilization has no memory and no mechanism to learn from its successes and failures. And paradoxically, with the explosion of the Internet, we live in what Danny Hillis has referred to as our “digital dark age.”

No more “Error 404 – Page Not Found”

The Internet Archive is working to prevent the Internet – a new medium with major historical significance – and other “born-digital” materials from disappearing into the past. Collaborating with institutions including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, we are working to preserve a record for generations to come.

Open and free access to literature and other writings has long been considered essential to education and to the maintenance of an open society. Public and philanthropic enterprises have supported it through the ages.

The Internet Archive is opening its collections to researchers, historians, and scholars. The Archive has no vested interest in the discoveries of the users of its collections, nor is it a grant-making organization.

Reviving dead links: A few services – such as UC Berkeley’s Digital Library Project, the Online Computer Library Center, and Alexa Internet are starting to offer access to archived versions of Web pages when those pages have been removed from the Web. This means that if you get a “404 – Page Not Found” error, you’ll still be able to find a version of the page.

This goal, and the work the archive does, complies with that highest goal embodied in the Latin motto, NIL MAGNUM NISI BONUM.


The Internet Archive and the work they do is both great and good, but goodness will always be fought by greed and graft, and so the costs in the achievement of this goal continue to be high; and as I said, some costs are immeasurable, like the cost to all of humanity of losing Aaron Swartz who had a major effect on the life of The Internet Archive, Creative Commons, the internet itself, and most of all, everyone whose lives he touched.

Tim Berners-Lee  –  tim-berners-lee

– the man responsible for the fact that I can write this today and that you can read it – because he invented the internet and, in one of the most important sacrifices of greed in human history, chose to make it free – said of  Aaron: “Blazing across the dark sky of ordinary people, broken systems, [he was] a shining force for good, a maker of things.”

Aaron was intensely committed to making knowledge free and open to all. And intensely committed to the work of the Internet Archive.

The government has fought this free and open collection of knowledge  at each and every turn; not only by National Security Letters, but by costly and dubious criminal investigations and prosecutions in which our government is nothing more than a shill for private, “for profit” companies, like PACER, who profits by a paywall that charges the public, the public whose taxpayer dollars pay for the public records they now “hold;” as well as  JSTOR, a company that has decided the storehouse of all the world’s knowledge and discovery, from Galileo to Genomic Sequencing, is theirs to pr0fit from. Aaron wanted to help make this information free to all, as it was to him with his M.I.T. library access. In his fight to make this knowledge free, the cost was his life.

From Rolling Stone:

The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Aaron Swartz

He was a child prodigy, an Internet pioneer and an activist who refused to back down – even when the feds tried to break him

…the conviction that Swartz was a victim of a government that has, in recent years, stepped up its pursuit of “cybercrimes” in ways once reserved for terrorists, prosecuting even minor transgressions with increasingly harsh punishments. Wikileaks claimed him as an ally, while Anonymous, the vigilante hacker collective, took over a number of websites, converting them into makeshift shrines. Visitors to the site for the U.S. Sentencing Commission, for instance, found the home page replaced by a statement: “Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win.”

Swartz himself had been among the most eloquent thinkers about the free- culture movement and the rifts it had created between old and new, analog and digital. “There’s a battle going on right now, a battle to define everything that happens on the Internet in terms of traditional things the law understands,” he stated in May 2012, in a keynote speech given at the Freedom to Connect Conference. “Is sharing a video on BitTorrent like shoplifting from a movie store, or is it like loaning a videotape to a friend? Is the freedom to connect like the freedom of speech, or like the freedom to murder?”

At 21 years old, after leaving Reddit, the company he helped found, Aaron… (continued from Rolling Stone)

…hooked up with Carl Malamud, the founder of Public.Resource.Org, a nonprofit devoted to pressuring the government to stop charging money for access to public documents. Swartz was interested in Malamud’s latest endeavor, a liberation of the government’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, or PACER, which charged at the time eight cents a page for court documents, generating a surplus of $150 million a year from material not protected by copyright. When the government started a pilot program offering free access to PACER from a limited number of public libraries, Malamud envisioned uploading the entire database and placing it onto an independent server, one that would offer the same material but be better organized, easier to search and free, anytime and anywhere.

That fall, Swartz wrote a script designed to crawl through the PACER system, sucking up documents at high speeds. From his office in Cambridge, he downloaded an estimated 20 percent of the database, or 19,865,160 pages of text…

At eight cents a page, the documents had a value of more than $1.5 million – and the fact that they were no longer controlled solely by the government did not sit well. In April 2009, an FBI agent contacted Swartz, interested in talking about the downloads. It turned out the agency had been investigating him for months, at one point conducting surveillance on his parents’ home. The investigation was eventually dropped – no laws, after all, had been broken – but Swartz was now on the government’s radar.

I didn’t mean to make this into a monument to Aaron Swartz, but it’s not a bad thing. We desperately need heroes, now. Heroes give us strength, hope, and belief that we too, can be heroes.

And we must be. We must be heroes. Time is running out.

So find your inner hero. And fight the good fight.



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