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�John Doe� Who Fought FBI Spying Freed From Gag Order After 6 Years

Aug 13, 2010, 12:06 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Kim Zetter)

"The owner of an internet service provider who mounted a high-profile court challenge to a secret FBI records demand has finally been partially released from a 6-year-old gag order that forced him to keep his role in the case a secret from even his closest friends and family. He can now identify himself and discuss the case, although he still can't reveal what information the FBI sought.

"Nicholas Merrill, 37, was president of New York-based Calyx Internet Access when he received a so-called "national security letter" from the FBI in February 2004 demanding records of one of his customers and filed a lawsuit to challenge it. His company was a combination ISP and security consultancy business that was launched in the mid-90s and had about 200 customers, Merrill said, many of them advertising agencies and non-profit groups.

"Despite the fact that the FBI later dropped its demand for the records, Merrill was prohibited from telling his fiancée, friends or family members that he had received the letter or that he was embroiled in a lawsuit challenging its legitimacy. He occasionally showed up for court hearings about the case, but sat silently in the audience with other court observers. In 2007, he was prevented from publicly accepting an award for his courage from the American Civil Liberties Union, because he was not allowed to identify himself as the plaintiff in the case."

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