Internet entrepreneur Nicholas Merrill was working in his Manhattan office when an FBI agent in a trench coat arrived with an envelope.
It was fall 2004, and federal investigators were using new legal authority they had acquired after Sept. 11, 2001. Merrill ran a small Internet service provider with clients including IKEA, Mitsubishi and freelance journalists.
The agent handed Merrill a document called a National Security Letter, which demanded that he turn over detailed records on one of his customers. The letter wasn’t signed by a judge or prosecutor. It instructed him to tell no one….