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[liberationtech] How Nick Merrill plans to promote consumer net privacy

Yosem Companys companys at
Thu Apr 12 00:16:55 PDT 2012

This Internet provider pledges to put your privacy first. Always.

Step aside, AT&T and Verizon. A new privacy-protecting Internet service and
telephone provider still in the planning stages could become the ACLU's
and the FBI's worst nightmare.

by Declan McCullagh April 11, 2012 4:00 AM PDT Follow

Nicholas Merrill is planning to revolutionize online privacy with a concept
as simple as it is ingenious: a telecommunications provider designed from
inception to shield its customers from surveillance.

Merrill, 39, who previously ran a New York-based Internet provider, told
that he's raising funds to launch a national "non-profit telecommunications
provider dedicated to privacy, using ubiquitous encryption" that will sell
mobile phone service, for as little as $20 a month, and Internet

The ISP would not merely employ every technological means at its disposal,
including encryption and limited logging, to protect its customers. It would
also -- and in practice this is likely more important -- challenge
surveillance demands of dubious legality or constitutionality.

A decade of revelations has underlined the intimate relationship between
telecommunications companies and Washington officialdom. Leading providers
including AT&T and Verizon handed billions of customer telephone records to
the National Security Agency; only Qwest refused to participate. Verizon
turned over customer data to the FBI without court orders. An AT&T
whistleblower accused the company of illegally opening its network to the
NSA, a practice that the U.S. Congress retroactively made legal in 2008.

By contrast, Merrill says his ISP, to be run by a non-profit called the
Institute with for-profit subsidiaries, will put customers first. "Calyx
use all legal and technical means available to protect the privacy and
integrity of user data," he says.

Merrill is in the unique position of being the first ISP exec to fight back
against the Patriot Act's expanded police powers -- and win.  Nick Merrill,
who once challenged a demand from the FBI for user data, is planning to
create the world's first privacy-protective Internet and mobile phone

Nick Merrill says that "we will use all legal and technical means to resist
having to hand over information, and aspire to be the partner in the
telecommunications industry that ACLU and EFF have always needed but never
had." (Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

In February 2004, the FBI sent Merrill a secret "national security letter"
(not an actual court order signed by a judge) asking for confidential
information about his customers and forbidding him from disclosing the
letter's existence. He enlisted the ACLU to fight the gag order, and won. A
federal judge barred the FBI from invoking that portion of the law, ruling
was "an "unconstitutional prior restraint of speech in violation of the
Amendment."  [SNIP]
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