Brewster Kahle does another cool thing.

June 5, 2008

First off, it seems that very few people spell Brewster Kahle’s name right … anyway, he is the inventor of WAIS, the founder of the Internet Archive, and on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation … an amazing resume.  Recently, Mr. Kahle has been going around telling the story of his recent run-ins with the FBI and Homeland Security, which is a fascinating tale (and makes one feel good that the little guy occasionally can win).  It seems that the FBI sends out quite a large number of letters each year (tens of thousands) asking web providers to hand over personal information about people they think might be reading suspicious things … in order to fight terrorism, don’t you know.  Almost always, the terrified recipients of these letters hand over everything they have.

The FBI made the mistake recently of sending one of these to the Internet Archive.  It seems that someone had been reading bad things there and was “of interest” (heck, could have been me).  It turns out, however, that the Internet Archive does not keep IP addresses in their logs, in anticipation of just such a thing happening, and is unable to pinpoint precisely who is doing the reading.  They also, interestingly, consider themselves to be a library (interesting for us librarians who might be surprised to hear such a thing).  As a Library (and they do have a pretty darn good case for this, acquiring and housing information for their users, and responding to many many queries a day), they are somewhat exempt from a lot of these demands.  So, what they did, being smart and bold folks, was to launch a counter suit against the United States government  for infringement of their basic constitutional rights.  What the FBI did in response was to immediately offer a settlement to keep the case from ever going to court.  It turns out that the last thing that the FBI wants is for these things to be tested in court! (because …  they know that they’re violating the constitution.  Kahle, being the bright fella that he is, agreed to the settlement, but only on the condition that he be allowed to talk about this case just as much as he likes … as you likely know, nobody is allowed to talk about these cases.  Brewster Kahle is now allowed to talk about this, and he is.

Brewster Kahle is my hero now.

(slight factual errors may occur here, because I’m working from memory … read the story yourself).


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