New Orleans When I have to start with a disclaimer, you already know this is that kind of blog. I have NOT talked to Michael Kieschnick, the CEO of Credo, a telephone service with over 100,000 customers and database of millions of activists, who has created what may be the model for consistent, large scale social enterprise, who is a long time personal friend and professional colleague. Nor have I discussed this case with any Credo board members or other company employees. Everything I know about this case is thanks to uber conservative, Rupert Murdoch, and his daily newsletter, the Wall Street Journal.
And, it’s a good thing that I missed Michael on my recent visit to San Francisco, since according to reporter Jennifer Valentino-DeVries:
The CEO from Credo, Mr. Kieschnick, said he was willing to discuss NSLs in general terms in order to tell his customers that his company can’t protect their privacy in all situations. It remains unclear whether Credo is the recipient of the NSL in the court fight in California. If Credo is the company, Mr. Kieschnick is taking a risk by speaking. The penalty for knowingly breaking the gag order with the intent to interfere with an investigation is up to five years in prison.
Had we had our usual visit when I’m was recently in the Bay Area, it would have been difficult for the subject not to come up, and I would have strained many a muscle trying to avoid stepping up to defend and praise both Credo and Michael! Having missed him as he returned from a grueling family bike riding excursion in Canada, there are, thankfully, as usual, no boundaries on what I can say and do! Of course I also don’t know for a 100% certainty that the telecom outfit that received a National Security Letter (NSL) and is challenging it in the courts in California is for a certainty Credo, but I would bet my last dollar that is the case, and will therefore proceed accordingly, so having said all of that, let’s get to it.
Here’s the backstory. The FBI for sometime has had the ability to send NSLs without court orders or grand jury proceedings to telecoms for information involving their investigations from the routine requests to connect a name with a number to the more serious matters determining senders and recipients of emails and so forth. The USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11 more than a decade ago, put NSLs on steroids and shrouded them in unbelievably complex and intricate secrecy under the claim of its anti-terrorism work. According to the Journal, the FBI sent almost 200,000 known requests for such information over the last nine years.
What Credo did which stands up and steps out from the herd of companies that have received such NSLs is actually go to court and challenge the fact that there is no judicial or grand jury review and authorization of such letters and crafted arguments about both their constitutionality and their chilling impact on freedom of speech guarantees. Now what triggered knowledge of all of this “I spy” drama is the fact that in an act that would be hard to describe as anything other than pure and simply bullying and attempted intimidation, the Justice Department has filed a civil suit against this unknown company alleging that they are jeopardizing “national security” and the “sovereign interests” of the United States. The issues are convoluted and byzantine because the FBI, DOJ, and others have tried and pushed them into a deep fog that almost seems to evade legal challenges. Credo – which means I believe and that fits here as well – is represented by the San Francisco Electronic Frontier Institute, which is excellent on these issues, so “game on,” but for a better feel on how bizarre all of this is, don’t believe me, go to the source.
In an excellent piece of investigative reporting, Valentino-DeVries and the Journal went backward from the court papers in this case to narrow down the list to Working Assets, Inc, which owns Credo. Most of us wouldn’t have had to work that hard if we had know about the court papers in the first place, but credit to where credit is due.
After watching and participating in many of Credo’s efforts to do the right thing and raise issues, small and large, because they mattered, it seems to me that Credo, and Michael’s leadership and risk taking, warrant support now as well. I wish I had an idea that was not as lame as doing an on-line petition and e-mail response, but that’s been a Credo weapon of choice many a time, so it seems like it might have value as a way to show them support as well. Lot of things on the plate today with a union leadership and stewarding school in New Orleans and it goes on and on, but stay tuned for us to get something up and running before the end of the day or don’t wait for us and jump on into the mess, but keep your head down, since the bully boys are swinging wildly with their NSL sticks!