Home > Uncategorized > US Censorship Poisons Internet At the Front End, with 100,000’s of Secret Gag Orders

US Censorship Poisons Internet At the Front End, with 100,000’s of Secret Gag Orders

national security letter (18 U.S.C. § 2709), an administrative subpoena used by the FBI, has an attached gag order which restricts the recipient from ever saying anything about being served with one. The government has issued hundreds of thousands (100,000’s, exact figure unknown) of such NSLs accompanied with gag orders. The gag orders have been upheld in US court.

This type of SECRET NSLs is warned as far more sweeping than even the web “take down” notices.  Google receives only a few hundred “take down” notices from US government a year, affecting a few thousand pieces of item.  But the SECRET NSLs are in the 100,000’s, by estimate alone, affecting MILLIONS of items of information which cannot be discussed ANYWHERE by ANYONE, under penalty of prison terms.

The low bar of requirement for US government to issue such SECRET NSLs is incredibly low:  the US government only has to “certify” that the SECRECY is required to avoid “criminality”.


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  1. Black Pheonix
    July 12th, 2014 at 05:47 | #1

    Some detailed stats about NSL gag orders:


    The FBI has issued more than 300,000 National Security letters since 2000 — with 192,499 letters alone between 2003-2006 — with 97 percent of letters containing a mandatory gagging order.

  2. mousey
    July 19th, 2014 at 17:54 | #2

    Here is a story about censorship http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-07/18/pirate-bay-traffic-doubles

    It’s not about the NSA but of different governments, and their courts, blocking Pirate Bay. They are a peer to peer file sharing site. I understand why they would do this since its users violate copyrights and hurts those who create content. It does show that many countries recognize limits on freedom of information.

  3. Black Pheonix
    July 27th, 2014 at 14:01 | #3

    Wikipedia blocks US Congress, over Propaganda edits.


  4. July 28th, 2014 at 08:13 | #4


    I understand why they would do this since its users violate copyrights and hurts those who create content. It does show that many countries recognize limits on freedom of information.

    Most people buy into this kind of thing … saying well, there is a difference between “enforcing property rights” – i.e. rule of law – vs. censorship – political control of information … ostensibly to keep people fro the light, to suppress people.

    I say, that’s buying into a very biased narrative.

    Consider property: slavery was once justified on property rights – hey whatever you think about “freeing” your brother, think about the consequences, you are taking away the property that is justly gained, rightly paid for, essential to the livelihood of your other brothers – the slave owners.

    So much for “property rights”… ? I don’t know, but it’s not the end all and be all … think below what’s happening… Today the powerful do not feel threatened by an external enemy … but by people who allegedly “steal” their “ideas”? Aren’t ideas the common heritage of mankind? Remember that proverb “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”? Sharing of idea used to be what being human is about? Today’s it’s about “possession”…


    Consider also censorship and suppression… Is it really suppression? Or keeping flame fire from fanatic people? Again the word “censorship” is just rhetorical … look below what’s happening….

    A few years, there was a great debate in the U.S. about SOPA and PIPA. It’s a set of laws the U.S. Congress considered to pass to better enforce IP rights on the web…

    Thousands of site went dark (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/17/wikipedia-blackout_n_1212096.html) to protest … and the law was not enacted.

    This was a big deal, and the following in a nutshell is what it was about, from http://venturebeat.com/2012/01/19/sopa-pipa-facts/

    The bills allow the U.S. Department of Justice as well as copyright holders to seek out and prosecute foreign sites that commit acts of piracy. The DOJ needs a court order before it can proceed, which it can obtain if the site in question is operated by an organization outside of the U.S. or the owner of the website’s domain doesn’t have adequate contact information.

    Once a court order has been served, there are three main tools these bills give the DOJ and copyright holders for blocking websites. The first involves having an internet service provider (like Comcast, for example) block the site’s Domain Name Service (DNS) record. To do this, ISPs would be required to lower the level of security needed to verify each site’s identity and protect against malicious hackers. This also means SOPA/PIPA actually make the internet far less secure than it currently is.

    Authors of both bills have wavered on their stance when it comes to DNS blocking. Smith previously stated that he intends to remove the DNS blocking stipulation from SOPA. Leahy admitted that more study is needed regarding DNS blocking, but hasn’t gone as far as to say he will remove it from PIPA. Regardless of either author’s stated intentions, both bills in their current form still include DNS blocking as a means to stop piracy.

    Even if DNS blocking is removed from both SOPA and PIPA, the legislation still offers two tools to block websites. The second method of blocking involves mandating that major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) de-index an accused site from their search results. The logic behind this action is that if you can’t search for sites that commit acts of piracy, then most people won’t be able to find those sites, and they will eventually die.

    And finally, the third way prohibits any site accused of piracy from doing business with other services, such as PayPal or any advertising platform. If organizations that are selling pirated goods can’t use secure transaction services to collect purchases, they can’t make money. The same is true for ad networks.

    Yet despite the hoopla and what appeared like a “win” for “freedom,” today we see all three things people have “feared” are a reality. And people go about as before, normally …

    DNS blocking is happening as you referenced.

    Search engine reindexing has also happened – as Google has admitted – albeit the Europeans didn’t find that Google had a evil intent!

    Finally, government have co-opted Western companies to interrupt essential payment and other services to sites it does not like – such as wikileaks.

    Today … the West with military dominance (outspending the world 10:1) may not feel so vulnerable in terms of security … but what if one day it does? Do you really think restrictions on speech for national security would generally really be recognized as political censorship … or necessary police actions needed to protect people’s lives?

    The West has all the tools of massive censorship a la China style great wall … and more. It may not be so obvious because the West controls the major financial organs of the world, the major news media of the world, the major Internet companies of the world, the military outposts of the world …. so they don’t really need to invoke it’s own “wall” … but even then, censorship a la China style exist. The world is so duped on the West’s notion of “rule of law” as some independent, moral institution to be revered when it’s just another arm of gov’t that conspires with the powerful as we all know. When the current tools needed for overt political control are exhausted, others – including the more draconian ones – will be massively and openly deployed. Make no mistake about that!

    In the end, I suppose, it’s really just all about whether you are sympathetic to the intent!

  5. July 30th, 2014 at 08:22 | #5

    Just came across more example of “gag orders.” As long as we see “rule of law” as fundamnetally good ad immutable, it can always be used, as the West has so cleverly, as a shield for all the dirty work it does…

    From http://rt.com/news/176580-wikileaks-australian-media-gag/

    Australian govt blindfolds citizens with ‘unprecedented’ media gag – WikiLeaks
    Published time: July 30, 2014 07:50
    Edited time: July 30, 2014 12:30

    WikiLeaks has accused the Australian government of blindfolding the public with the worst suppression order in “living memory.” The media gag bans Australian news outlets from reporting on a multinational corruption case for reasons of national security.

    The whistleblowing organization published the details of the “unprecedented” gag order issued by the Australian government on Wednesday. The super injunction passed by the Supreme Court of the state of Victoria prohibits Australian media organizations from publishing material on a multi-million-dollar graft case involving high-ranking officials from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).

    “The gag order effectively blacks out the largest high-level corruption case in Australia and the region,” said a statement published on WikiLeaks’ website.

    The case pertains to RBA subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing who bribed the officials to secure lucrative contracts to supply bank notes to their governments. The gag order was issued after the secret indictment of seven senior executives from the RBA subsidiaries on June 19, writes WikiLeaks.

    The Australian government justifies the order as being in the interests of national security and prevention of “damage to Australia’s international relations.” However, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange argues such an act of “unprecedented censorship” is unjustifiable.

    “With this order, the worst in living memory, the Australian government is not just gagging the Australian press, it is blindfolding the Australian public,” said Assange in a statement published on the WikiLeaks website. He called on Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to explain “why she is threatening every Australian with imprisonment in an attempt to cover up an embarrassing corruption scandal involving the Australian government.”

    “Corruption investigations and secret gag orders for ‘national security’ reasons are strange bedfellows. It is ironic that it took [Prime Minister] Tony Abbott to bring the worst of ‘Asian Values’ to Australia,” said Assange.

    Lawyers have suggested that media outlets may not be the only targets of the gag order, arguing that social media users who post links to the WikiLeaks statement could be subject to prosecution. Media lawyer Peter Bartlett told the Age newspaper that using the hashtag WikiLeaks did not violate the order, but any mention of the contents of the statement is prohibited.

    According to WikiLeaks, the last blanket suppression order was issued in 1995 to stop Australian news outlet Fairfax Media from publishing information about a US-Australian spying operation on the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.

  6. September 22nd, 2014 at 08:24 | #6

    AS another sign that gag orders are creeping up everywhere and is the norm not the exception, here is an article last week on the disappearance of Apple’s warrant canary.”

    From https://gigaom.com/2014/09/18/apples-warrant-canary-disappears-suggesting-new-patriot-act-demands/:

    Summary: Apple included language in its first Transparency Report to say that it had not been subject to a Section 215 Patriot Act request. That language is now gone.

    When Apple published its first Transparency Report on government activity in late 2013, the document contained an important footnote that stated:

    “Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us.”

    Writer and cyber-activist Cory Doctorow at the time recognized that language as a so-called “warrant canary,” which Apple was using to thwart the secrecy imposed by the Patriot Act.

    Warrant canaries are a tool used by companies and publishers to signify to their users that, so far, they have not been subject to a given type of law enforcement request such as a secret subpoena. If the canary disappears, then it is likely the situation has changed — and the company has been subject to such request.

    Now, Apple’s warrant canary has disappeared. A review of the company’s last two Transparency Reports, covering the second half of 2013 and the first six months of 2014, shows that the “canary” language is no longer there.

    The warrant canary’s disappearance is significant because Section 215 of the Patriot Act permits the National Security Agency to demand companies to hand over their business records in secret.

    The Patriot Act tool is also controversial because the NSA gains permission to use it by applying to the FISA Court, a body where only the government can speak and whose records are kept almost entirely secret. The tech industry has been battling to disclose the existence of so-called “FISA requests” and only won the right to do so this year; however, companies must wait six months to disclose the number of requests they receive, and can only do so as a range (such as “0-999″).

    The disappearance of Apple’s warrant canary thus suggests that the company too is affected by FISA proceedings. Apple did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

    Update: As the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian has noted, Apple’s latest report says it has not received any orders for “bulk data.” That language, however, appears in the National Security Letter section of the document (NSL letters concern domestic FBI requests, not FISA requests) and, in any event, not all FISA requests concern bulk data.

    Meanwhile, as stated above, Apple is newly silent in regard to Section 215, the law that covers the FISA requests whose existence is subject to temporary non-disclosure rules. The upshot is that it is unclear if Apple has not received any FISA requests, or if it is under a gag order not to disclose such requests.

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