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Federal judge rules Patriot Act national security letter gag orders unconstitutional

[JURIST] Issuing National Security Letters (NSLs) [CRS backgrounder, PDF; FBI backgrounder] demanding private information and imposing gag orders on recipients under the reauthorized and revised USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive] is unconstitutional without judicial review, US District Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York ruled [opinion, PDF; ACLU press release] Thursday. In September 2004, a federal judge struck down [PDF text] as unreasonable search and seizure the NSL gag order provision in the original version of the act rushed through Congress after 9/11. The provision was amended in the March 2006 renewal of the Patriot Act [JURIST report]. In Thursday's ruling, Marrero said that allowing the FBI to issue NSLs without seeking prior court approval from a judge or grand jury violated several constitutional principles including separation of powers and First Amendment rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] brought the lawsuit [ACLU materials] on behalf of an anonymous Internet service provider that received an NSL. Lawyers representing the ACLU argued before the federal court [JURIST report] in August that NSLs authorized under the Patriot Act are unconstitutional because they act as a gag order without any judicial check [press release]. AP has more.

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